Published: Wed, July 11, 2018
Worldwide | By Angelina Lucas

U.S. stuns world health officials by opposing breastfeeding

U.S. stuns world health officials by opposing breastfeeding

The U.S. delegation attempted, unsuccessfully, to derail a resolution on the topic of breastfeeding at the World Health Organization's annual meeting in May, The New York Times reported over the weekend. According to the Times, an anodyne and scientifically sound pro-breastfeeding resolution was expected to be approved easily.

Amongst other things, the resolution urges member states "to increase investment in development, implementation and monitoring and evaluation of laws, policies and programmes aimed at protection, promotion, including education and supportof breastfeeding" and "to end inappropriate promotion of foods for infants and young children". Of course, it is in line with the general attitude of the USA, which has earlier opposed taxes on sugared drinks and attacked changes in licensing law proposed to deliver life-saving medicines in poor countries.

Breastfeeding has always been touted as the preferred source of food for infants, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agreeing that babies who are breastfed have reduced risks of asthma, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, ear and respiratory infections, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

"Formula is the same that you give a newborn infant as you're giving a one-year-old, and human milk is a lovely, amazing, diverse, biological substance that changes every minute of the day for the child", said Dr. Mitchell. The companies denied any wrongdoing.

The Times noted the United States position aligned with infant formula manufacturers.

The United States reportedly pressured Ecuador to drop sponsorship of the text, threatening trade sanctions and military aid cuts.

The State Department meanwhile described as "false" the notion that Washington had threatened a partner country. Though the US was able to get Ecuador to drop the resolution, delegates from Russian Federation later introduced it with only minor concessions made to the USA delegation's position.

"What happened was tantamount to blackmail, with the United States holding the world hostage and trying to overturn almost 40 years of consensus on best way to protect infant and young child health", she said.

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Although the USA and many other countries promote a "breast is best" policy, many mothers are unable to breastfeed for a variety of reasons like medical challenges, insufficient maternity leave, or inability to afford time away from work often required for exclusive breastfeeding.

"We recognize not all women are able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons".

When this failed, the Times reported that US delegates turned to threats.

The State Department would not answer the Times' questions.

"These women should have the choice and access to alternatives for the health of their babies, and not be stigmatized for the ways in which they are able to do so", a spokesperson said in an email.

"They also had co-sponsored the original resolution so they were very supportive of the breastfeeding protection mechanisms in the resolution so we really have to commend them for that".

The Times notes a 2016 series in the Lancet in which researchers estimated that universal breastfeeding could spare the lives of 823,000 children each year and save $302 billion in economic losses. Four decades of research have shown that breast milk is more beneficial for infants that formula.

As part of global nutrition targets, countries who are part of the World Health Organization have vowed to increase rates of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life to at least 50 percent of mothers by 2025.

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