A resolution encouraging breastfeeding, presented at the recent World Health Assembly, was passed and approved by hundreds of government delegates from different countries. However, it faced opposition from the United States, stunning members of the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO).
According to a report by the The New York Times, the public health officials and foreign diplomats present expected the resolution to be approved quickly and with little resistance. But Ecuador, who was set to sponsor the resolution at the assemby, backed off.
The article in the New York Times said, “If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid. At least a dozen countries, most of them poor nations in Africa and Latin America, backed off, citing fears of retaliation.”
Patti Rundall, the policy director of the British advocacy group Baby Milk Action, told the newspaper, “What happened was tantamount to blackmail, with the U.S. holding the world hostage and trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on the best way to protect infant and young child health.”
The American delegation wanted to have the phrase “protect, promote and support breastfeeding” removed from the resolution. It also did not like a passage that was aimed to restrict the promotion of food products that experts say may have ill-effects on children. As the report noted, the United States was “embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers.”
In the end, it was Russia that stepped up to introduce the resolution and did not receive any threat. “In the end, the Americans’ efforts were mostly unsuccessful,” said The Times.
A Russian delegate, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Times, “We’re not trying to be a hero here, but we feel that it is wrong when a big country tries to push around some very small countries, especially on an issue that is really important for the rest of the world.”
WHO describes breastfeeding as the “an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants…Review of evidence has shown that, on a population basis, exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months is the optimal way of feeding infants.”
Breast milk offers babies the best start in life, and formula milk has nothing on it when it comes to cost, especially for poor nations. Lacking the proper nutrition during the first 1,000 days can cause cognitive delays, slow physical growth, and a weakened immune system.