This is a guest blog of Rachel Irwin, PhD candidate of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, a research assistant at the London School of Economics and a member of the Global Health Council delegation to the 2010 World Health Assembly.
GENEVA, Switzerland – On Tuesday, Committee A voted on draft resolution EB124/R4 on Health conditions in the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan. A number of countries voted no or abstained, stating strongly that the World Health Organization (and health in general) should not be politicised. It’s not a large jump from this statement to say that health and the WHO should not pander to commercial interests, either. Yet, some of these countries clearly do.
It’s fair enough that countries come to the World Health Assembly (WHA) with their own interests, which was clearly seen in discussion on Agenda item 11.6, Infant and Young Child Nutrition. Lower and middle income countries stressed the need to strengthen the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, which aims to prevent the unethical marketing of infant formula and baby foods to mothers.
Exclusive breastfeeding for six months is best and protects against infectious disease and, suggested by recent research, childhood obesity. Some countries, including Swaziland, Palau and South Africa called for the end of all marketing of breastmilk substitutes. Given their high rates of infant and child mortality and in some cases childhood obesity, this is completely in their interests and they have nothing to lose.
The U.S., however, bears little of the burden of infant and child mortality, but does have a large industry. They called for the WHO to consider a 2009 Gates Foundation report, questioning how effective the integration of the code into national legislation is. And the U.S. was concerned that the marketing of anything and everything would be banned.
Fair enough that the U.S. is protecting its interests. Except that its interest isn’t so nice.
But the real point is that countries shouldn’t pick and choose when they are going to be health- and social justice-oriented and when they are politicised or tied to vested interests based on how personally concerned they are with the issue. But, of course, they do.