Latakia: High prices of infant formula deprive children of the basic need

Baby milk powder inside a pharmacy in the city of Jableh, Latakia - November 2023 (Enab Baladi/Linda Ali)

Baby milk powder inside a pharmacy in the city of Jableh, Latakia - November 2023 (Enab Baladi/Linda Ali)

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Latakia – Linda Ali

The price of a box of Nan Stage 2  infant formula shocked Nadia, who was tasked by her sister to search for it for her little child in the coastal city of Latakia.

The price of the 800-gram box reached 235,000 Syrian pounds, while the small size package of 400 grams was absent from all the shops and pharmacies that she knocked on its doors a few days ago.

This large container barely lasts for an infant for about ten days, with all possible savings. That is, with rationing, the child needs three containers per month, the price of which is approximately equivalent to three and a half months’ salaries.

The minimum government salary reached approximately 186,000 pounds (about $13) after increasing it by 100% in mid-August.

($1=14,050 SYP) according to the S-P Today website, which covers the trading rate of the Syrian pound to the dollar.

Nadia, 28, said that her sister had several cans of infant formula brought to her by an expatriate friend, of which only two cans remain today, so it was necessary to search in order to ensure that the material would not be interrupted for her child.

She added that the price was a major obstacle. “How could my sister and her husband buy the package for this amount? They are both employees with a salary not exceeding 225,000 pounds, and the child also needs other food at this age, and this is what causes an increase in expenses.”

Nadia mentioned that when the seller saw that she was surprised by the price, he offered her to buy half the box because there was a customer who wanted half of it, but if she only wanted a third, she could bring a customer and share the box with him.

Nadia thanked the seller and went out, hoping to find what she needed elsewhere until she found a small box of the same type in a pharmacy in the Sheikh Daher neighborhood for 125,000 pounds.

The Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection raised the price of infant formula at the end of last October to 100,000 pounds for the consumer type Nan Stage-1 (400 grams), but with the scarcity of the substance, the majority of shops and pharmacies do not adhere to the price.

Local alternatives

Zainab, 35, gave up buying infant formula and decided to use a locally manufactured type of powdered milk, which is not intended for infants. However, she consulted her doctor and told him that she was unable to buy milk and that she intended to give her toddler that type, but he told her that she should not do that because it is dangerous for the infant.

With her insistence, the doctor asked her to put one tablespoon of milk powder for every cup of water instead of two and a half tablespoons. and she has been doing this since her baby was five months old, and she is seven months old today.

Zainab is trying to compensate her child with other alternatives, such as yogurt, because she was exposed to a severe health condition, as a result of which she stopped breastfeeding when her child was four months old.

The price of a box of Nan 1 and Nan 2 Optipro produced by Nestle company at the beginning of last January, when the Ministry of Internal Trade priced it for the first time, reached 17,050 pounds, increasing its price about six times in less than ten months when the new pricing was issued at the end of last October.

Zainab added that her friend resorted to using cow’s milk but with extreme caution. She mixes one part of the milk, after boiling it for 20 minutes over the fire, with two parts of water and gives it to her eight-month-old baby. She has been doing this method since her child was six months old because she was unable to buy infant formula.

Cow’s milk is considered very dangerous to the health of infants, and according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the high concentration of protein found in this type of milk may lead to inflammation of the child’s intestines or bleeding in the intestinal lining.

Cow’s milk does not contain sufficient amounts of iron for the child, which can result in anemia, and sometimes, the symptoms are more serious and cause the death of the infant.

Every time, a different kind

What is most stressful for Ismail, 42, is not only the price of the baby formula but the process of searching for it, as he is forced to change the type every time. One time, he finds a “Nan” formula, another time, a Guigoz type, and a third of the “Aptamil” type. Often, his baby does not accept the new type the first time or ends up suffering from digestive issues.

There are some types that are not very desirable in the market, such as BebeLait at a price of 67,000 pounds (400 grams) and S-26 Gold at 96,000 pounds, but the majority prefer Nestlé products such as “Nan.”

Ismail, who works remotely with a programming company outside Syria, has a good income that helps him pay for milk, and all he dreams of is finding one type that he can continue with without changing.

He said that his son will turn one year old in less than a month and a half, and he is currently drinking Nan-2 Optipro. And with the return of this type’s availability after its price was raised, he may not have to change it again.

The price of infant formula is controlled by import, as it is a substance that is not produced locally, according to what the head of the Services Committee in the People’s Assembly, Faisal Azouz, said. He added to the local Al-Watan newspaper that the substance must be more subsidized than others, and the state must supervise its distribution more accurately.

 

 

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