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News Release November 16, 2012
Outrage sparks Twitter battle between UN health watchdogs WHO, PAHO
Moms, front line breastfeeding workers furious with Pan American Health Organization for accepting $150,000 from Nestlé
Two global health care titans are duking it out on Twitter over the ethics of accepting money from food industry giants to fight non-communicable disease.
This comes after moms and front line health care workers vented their fury at the Pan American Health Office – the regional representative in the Americas for the World Health Organization – over $150,000 received from Nestlé.
This is one of several exchanges between WHO and PAHO/WHO on Twitter Nov 14 and 15th.
After fighting industry for years to uphold an international code to protect moms and babies from predatory marketing, there was outrage when it was learned PAHO accepted $150,000 from Nestlé. This is a direct violation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, known as the “WHO Code”, and moms and breastfeeding support workers are furious.
“No matter how PAHO-WHO spins it, accepting cash handouts from Nestle is an endorsement of their products, and a green light to Nestle to continue to harm the health of children by violating the WHO Code,” says Dr. Jennie Bever Babendure, a breastfeeding researcher and mother of two who wrote a blog post triggering the outcry on social media. “We’re fighting this battle while nursing our babies, picking up our kids from school and doing our jobs. It is our health and the health of our children the world over that PAHO-WHO is selling to the highest bidder.”
While the health protection titans hash it out with careful language, moms and the lactation consultants who help them say it’s simple. PAHO must give the money back.
Marsha Walker, executive director of the US-based National Alliance for Breastfeeding Advocacy, said in an article on the issue: “The wolf in sheep’s clothing comes bearing money and is rewarded for its poor corporate behavior by aligning itself with the good name of respected health agencies.”
Our newly-formed group, Friends of the WHO Code is asking other organizations to join our effort and pressure the WHO and PAHO-WHO to reexamine this and other relationships and how they impact global public health. We can be reached at FriendsofWHOCode@gmail.com.
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Contact: Dr. Jennie Bever Babendure
Link to Jennie Bever Babendure’s blog post: http://lactationmatters.org/2012/11/08/if-you-dont-advocate-for-mothers-babies-who-will/
Link to Marsha Walker’s article: http://www.bfnews.blogspot.ca/2012/11/world-health-organization-sells-out-to.html
Media are invited to contact Amber Rhoton McCann, IBCLC, firstname.lastname@example.org for more details on the social media response to this issue, and Marsha Walker, RN, IBCLC, Executive Director, National Alliance for Breastfeeding Advocacy (NABA), email@example.com for more information about the WHO Code. Background on issue is attached.
On October 19, 2012 Reuters broke the story that the Pan American Health Office (PAHO-WHO) of the World Health Organization (WHO) had accepted $150,000 from Nestle. In addition to what most know as a chocolate company, Nestle is a multibillion dollar corporation in direct conflict with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (the WHO Code). Due to the aggressive marketing of their infant feeding products in the 3rd world, Nestle has been the subject of an international boycott for the past 35 years. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nestl%C3%A9_boycott
Based on the aggressive and predatory tactics of companies such as Nestlé, in 1981 the World Health Organization and UNICEF, supported by 118 countries, brought in the WHO Code to protect vulnerable children who may suffer poor health and even death due to lack of breastfeeding, especially in places without access to clean water and proper sanitation. This public endorsement of the importance of breastfeeding was a critical step for public health worldwide, and has since guided legislation in 103 of countries to enforce all or part of the WHO Code. Over 20 other countries adopted the code on a voluntary basis.
Unfortunately in the US and many other countries, a lack of legislative enforcement of the WHO Code has resulted in over 30 years of rampant violations. From the “gift” bag at the hospital to delivery of formula samples on mothers’ doorsteps, infant formula manufacturers have continued to violate the WHO Code, and negatively impact breastfeeding. These violations have intensified in recent years as corporations have begun to infiltrate social media to market their products directly to new mothers. In the fight against these aggressive tactics, the support of the WHO through the WHO Code has been the main source of strength for advocates worldwide. By partnering with Nestlé, PAHO-WHO has endorsed one of the worst violators it initially set out to regulate. This relationship serves as a symbol to other organizations that the WHO Code has no meaning, sending a message to other companies that such marketing tactics will be overlooked.
The gravity of this action has sparked worldwide outrage and demand for the WHO to reexamine their relationship with Nestle and return the $150,000. This action is such a breach of trust between the WHO and the people it protects that it has united a global front of breastfeeding advocates, public health professionals, mothers and fathers to stand up to organizations that violate the WHO Code, including PAHO-WHO itself. In order for the WHO Code to maintain its integrity, PAHO-WHO must return the funds, as a monetary relationship with Nestlé symbolizes a nail in the coffin of the cause and gives a green light to code violators that the WHO Code has no meaning.
 WHO, International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, (Introduction, p. 5)
 UNICEF, National Implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (April 2011)