Health stakeholders have criticised “bizarre” attempts by US officials to block a World Health Assembly resolution encouraging breastfeeding
According to an article published in the New York Times, the United States delegation to the World Health Assembly in Geneva this northern spring “upended” deliberations over a new resolution regarding the feeding of babies.
The resolution stated that milk from a baby’s mother is the healthiest food for it, and that nations should work to limit any “inaccurate or misleading” promotion of baby formula.
However reporter Andrew Jacobs wrote that the US delegation attempted to remove wording asking governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding,” and another section asking policy-makers to restrict foods which could have a “deleterious” effect on infants.
The US delegation allegedly threatened Ecuador – which had intended to introduce the resolution – with trade sanctions and the withdrawal of military aid if it did so.
A number of other countries, many of these poor countries in Africa or Latin America, also backed away from the resolution in fear of reprisals, some delegates said.
In the end, Russia introduced the measure, with no threats from the US.
Speaking to SKY News’ Ashleigh Gillon on Tuesday, Australian Medical Association president Dr Tony Bartone called the commotion “bizarre”.
“You’d have to say that where commercial interests have tried to sort of get in the way of a very good and very strong and very appropriate public health messaging opportunity,” Dr Bartone said.
“We know that breastfeeding, where is possible, is the best alternative. It’s not always possible but, of course, it’s the best first option available.
“The interference by commercial lobbyists on behalf of infant formula manufacturers was concerning, to say the least.
“And really, we need to be sure that when we’re talking public health messaging; it’s the medical experts talking and leave the commercial interests out to one side. Because they don’t have a role to play here.”
Executive director of the American Public Health Association Georges Benjamin said in a statement that the organisation was “stunned” at the attempt to block the resolution.
“It is unconscionable for the US or other government to oppose efforts that promote breastfeeding,” he said. “The consequences of low rates of breastfeeding are even greater for the health of children in resource-poor countries.
“The scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports breastfeeding and its many health benefits for both child and mother.
“In cases where mothers are unable to breastfeed, there are evidence-based solutions to protect the mom and ensure the baby thrives.”
The US President took to Twitter to condemn the New York Times for the story, labelling it “fake news”.