Sunday, November 18, 2012

WHO Code, No Nestle, Conflict of Interest

Recently, news broke that the World Health Organization accepted money from corporate sponsors such as fast giants, such as Nestle, to fund its obesity-fighting campaigns. Oh, the irony.
A Reuters investigation found that WHO's regional office has turned to the very companies whose sugary drinks and salty foods are linked to many of the maladies it's trying to prevent.
The office, the Pan American Health Organization, not only is relying on the food and beverage industry for advice on how to fight obesity. For the first time in its 110-year history, it has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in money from the industry.
Accepting industry funding goes against WHO's worldwide policies. Its Geneva headquarters and five other regional offices have been prohibited from accepting money from the food and soda industries, among others. 

This is a conflict of interest - Food and beverage companies donating money to nonprofit groups that are fighting the very diseases that their products have helped to create. The WHO is unwilling to accept money from tobacco agencies, why should this situation be different? 

The news went viral, and social media users began to tweet their outrage:

From the article on Breastfeeding Science Outrage sparks Twitter battle between UN health watchdogs WHO, PAHO:
After fighting industry for years to uphold an international code to protect moms and babies from predatory marketing, there was outrage when it was learned PAHO accepted $150,000 from Nestlé. This is a direct violation of what is known as the WHO Code and moms and breastfeeding support workers are furious.
No Nestle
Nestle violates the WHO/UNICEF International Code of Marketing Breast-milk Substitutes, which it agreed to abide by in 1984. Nestle unethically markets infant formula to poor mothers in developing countries, where babies are more likely to suffer and die from gastrointestinal issues caused my feeding their babies formula (often with un-clean water) than breast milk (which protects the baby from illness). They promote infant formula unethically, providing gifts to health providers to promote their product, and they distribute free formula in hospitals (disrupting lactation) which poor families must then continue to pay for after there are no more freebies. (Click for more on the Nestle boycott)

Using Social Media for Powerful Change
The Lactation Matters blog, in the post  World Wide Impact in 10 Minutes or Less: Using Social Media for Powerful Change, wrote that the WHO began to respond to tweets:

Breastfeeding Science posted a tweet where PAHO responded to the WHO, but interestingly, it has been deleted from their Twitter page. PAHO does have different standards than the WHO regarding business partners, and they have been cash-strapped on programs dealing with obesity due to budget cuts.

Clearly, social media can have an impact. As Anthropologist Margaret Mead is famously quoted “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” 

Join the conversation!
1. By joining the Facebook group Friends of the WHO Code and 
2. Tweeting about it! This is one example of how Twitter can be really useful. If you have a twitter account, just copy and paste:

#WHOCode protects women&babies from predatory marketing. Shame @Nestle for trying to buy seat at the @PAHOWHO table #nonestle #breastfeeding

Tell @PAHOWHO to give back @Nestle $150K #nonestle #WHOCode #breastfeeding #conflictofinterest @WHO

We will not be bought! @PAHOWHO please return the money to @nestle Stand up for mothers and babies. #WHOCode #breastfeeding #nonestle

It is important to note that the WHO has no regulatory authority, and many nations lack legislative reinforcement. So while this is a conflict of interest, pressure on PAHO and especially Nestle may be the biggest ways to have an impact. Don't let this move undermine the Code. 

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