In the book Understanding Breastfeeding in the Middle East, author Modia Batterjee laments the decline of breastfeeding in Saudi Arabia. At first glance, the 26 Club Forum for Child Health and Nutrition founded to “raise awareness on the new health problems that affect Saudi children,” is a step in the right direction. Now, 26 experts in the field of infant health and safety gathered last Thursday to discuss health among Saudi children. The theme of the first session is “Breast Feeding: The Ideal Diet.” Yet a closer look at the organizers and content of the forum raise serious health concerns.
Spearheading a campaign to elevate the quality of children’s care and nutrition in Saudi Arabia, a group of elite pediatricians in the Kingdom has launched “Club 26″ whose primary objective is to keep fellow pediatricians abreast and well-informed about the latest scientific findings and approaches in their sublime profession.
The Club is founded and sponsored by Pfizer Inc, a leading international pharmaceutical firm.
Consistent with the pharmaceutical firms responsibility as the worlds leading biopharmaceutical company, it collaborates with health care providers, governments and local communities to support and expand access to reliable, affordable health care around the world.
But Pfizer Nutrition’s main business is not public health: It’s selling formula, at the expense of breastfeeding. Pfizer’s record shows that any attempt to regulate safety of baby milk or promote breastfeeding, is a cynical attempt to influence the medical community and the general public.
- A UK study showed that four of Pfizer’s products, marketed under the SMA brand, contained 10 to 40 times the amount of aluminum found in breastmilk. Aluminum toxicity, to which babies are especially susceptible, are associated with concerns neurodevelopmental development and bone health.
- Pfizer SMA infant formulas have been recalled from supermarket shelves numerous times, including one episode of botulism.
- In 2003 when SMA Nutrition was still owned by Wyeth, it was fined a total of £26 000 ($41 900; €37 200) and ordered to pay costs of more than £34 000 after being convicted of six separate breaches of illegal advertising direct to consumers.
According to neonatologist Dr. Saad Abdullah Al Saedi, “pediatricians who attend the lectures will accumulate credit hours that can be used in renewing their license in the Kingdom as the government mandates that pediatricians are required to have earned 30 credit hours before they can renew their professional license.” Letting a formula company teach nutrition to pediatricians is like letting cigarette manufacturers give continuing education in cancer prevention.
Breastfeeding is the only green and truly healthy way to feed a baby. Not only does formula processing and transport lead to excess pollution and garbage, a US study estimated that the US could save up to $13 billion in health care costs if all babies were exclusively breastfed for six months.
While there is a need for safe infant formula for babies whose mothers don’t breastfeed, the heavy marketing and “education” by formula manufacturers in the Middle East harms our planet and the health of our children.
More on breast feeding:
Ten Tips for Breastfeeding Your Baby in the Middle East
Maccabi Health Fund Undermines Babies’ Health by Distributing Free Formula to New Moms
Why Baby’s First Gift Shouldn’t Be Formula from the Hospital