According to the New York Times, the US has threatened sanctions against countries that backed a WHO resolution in favor of breastfeeding. US President Donald Trump, however, slammed the report as "Fake News."
The US "strongly supports breast feeding," US President Donald Trump tweeted on Monday, after the New York Times (NYT) published a story claiming the US used threats in an attempt to water down a resolution on breastfeeding earlier this year.
According to the NYT, the US pushed back against the document proposed by Ecuador during a World Health Organization meeting in Geneva this spring. The document said "that mother's milk is healthiest for children and countries should strive to limit the inaccurate or misleading marketing of breast milk substitutes," the NYT reported.
However, the US sought to remove the paragraphs calling on states to "protect, promote and support breastfeeding" and restrict the promotion of food products that could be harmful to young children.
When their suggestions were dismissed, an American delegate reportedly threatened Ecuador and other countries that planned to support the resolution. The paper says the US embraced "the interests of infant formula manufacturers."
"The Americans were blunt: If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid," the newspaper said. "The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced."
Russia pushes the resolution through
In the report, the NYT cites several unnamed officials, saying the US approach met criticism from "more than a dozen participants from several countries." They also quote Patti Rundall from the UK group Baby Milk Action, who attended the assembly.
"We were astonished, appalled and also saddened," Rundall said. "What happened was tantamount to blackmail, with the US holding the world hostage and trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on the best way to protect infant and young child health," she said.
Eventually, after the US used strongarm tactics to deter several other countries in Africa and Latin America from sponsoring the resolution, Russia stepped in and introduced the measure, according to the NYT.
The article states the US efforts were "mostly unsuccessful" as the text was voted in with only minor changes to the original text.
On Monday, US President Trump decried the story as "Fake News."
"The US strongly supports breast feeding but we don't believe women should be denied access to formula," he tweeted. "Many women need this option because of malnutrition and poverty."
Separately, the US State Department also denied that Washington had had threatened a friendly country.
"The United States believed the resolution as originally drafted called on states to erect hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children," said a State Department official.
The women should have "full information about safe alternatives."
Breastfeeding crucial in poor countries
Responding to Trump's tweet, Dr. Michele Barry from the Stanford School of Medicine said the president's opinion was wrong.
"Malnutrition and poverty are the precise settings where you absolutely do need to breastfeed, because that's the setting where access to safe and clean water for reconstituting powdered formula is often impossible to find," she said.
A 2016 analysis by the reputable medical journal The Lancet estimated that universal breastfeeding would prevent the deaths of some 823,000 babies per year due to various health benefits, including increased immunity and intelligence.
dj/msh (AFP, AP)