NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Did Unicef Policy Lead To AIDS In African Children?

December 8, 2000

Unicef, the United Nations agency charged with protecting children, may be indirectly responsible for thousands of African babies being infected with the deadly AIDS virus, reports the Wall Street Journal.

In the 1970s, anticorporate activists organized a worldwide boycott of Nestle aimed at stopping the distribution of free samples and advertising of infant formula in developing countries. They claimed mothers were "pressured by advertising" not to breast feed, including mothers who could not afford to purchase more formula when their breast milk dried up.

  • Since then, Unicef has been engaged in a running battle with manufacturers over compliance with a voluntary marketing code devised by Unicef and the World Health Organization, which manufacturers signed in the 1980s.
  • But then AIDS entered the picture and it was discovered that HIV-infected mothers could transfer the disease to their babies through breast feeding.
  • To date, an estimated 1.1 million to 1.7 million infants have become infected via breast milk -- most of them in Africa.
  • Formula maker Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories Inc. says it stands ready to donate tons of free formula for HIV-infected women and formula maker Nestle SA says it would do so too, if asked.
  • But Unicef, which funds health care and influences policy in many Third World countries, refuses to green light the gifts.

Nestle says it has received "desperate" requests for free formula from some African hospitals, but won't risk a renewed boycott by acting without Unicef's okay.

Carol Bellamy, executive director of Unicef, says she doesn't believe Nestle and the other major formula makers have "a particular role" to play in the AIDS crisis. "What they should do is comply with the code," she says.

Source: Alix M. Freedman and Steve Stecklow, "As Unicef Battles Baby-Formula Makers, African Infants Sicken," Wall Street Journal, December 5, 2000.

For text (requires WSJ subscription):

http://online.wsj.com/articles/SB975978176677135549.htm

 

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