Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Future of children and mothers in Malaysia

Today we (representatives of several breastfeeding support groups in Malaysia) visited the office of the Deputy Minister of Health. 

We speak from the heart and because of that got a little emotional. 

We spoke about the future of children and mothers in Malaysia. And of the fate that will befall if the behavior of the milk powder industry is not constantly monitored and regulated.

From our point of view, the FM industry has consistently violated the existing marketing ethics. So when our groups were called to give our views and ideas about how to strengthen the existing code in the 5th review conference (since it existed in 1979), we were very pleased and welcomed the involvement.

But after more than 10 months of meetings and discussions, we felt as if the industry is like a naughty child who was stretching his luck finding opportunity to bend the rules, and to even try opening the ‘door’ wider for the sake of maintaining the 'right' to rampantly market and promote their products.

The victims are women and children who did not know about the existence of the code which PROTECTS their rights - namely, the rights of babies to begin life with breastfeeding and continue until 2 years or more, and starting from 6 months of age, family food should be introduced. The industry did not respect this aspiration comprehensively. They just want to ‘look good', behaving as if they have respected the wish of the mother and the baby to exclusive breastfeeding during the first 6 months. Outside of that environment, they desperately want the government and everyone to accept their 'special gift' - milk for pregnant women, nursing mothers milk, milk for the baby stage one, two, three and so on, milk for older children, milk for school children, milk for adults and milk for the elderly. In short, milk from birth to the grave. Amazing is it?! The Malaysian diet – Formula Milk! They ignored that Malaysia is a country rich with authentic healthy natural food. They portrayed their formulations as enabling a child growing up with ‘a great brain and becoming an astronaut someday’. That's the message delivered in their advertisements and promotions when they are not monitored. That upsets us!

We also expressed our disappointment with the attitude of professional health practitioners and certain health associations who stood against us saying 'what's wrong' to receive contributions from these companies to subsidize or pay for health conferences or research studies, which should be free from any 'conflict of interest'. All this had been long accepted and practiced in all major associations such as OGSM, MPA, NSM and more. When they opened their mouth saying 'what's wrong', that's when our country is most affected..

There are also health practitioners who conspired with these companies receiving donations in the form of money or goods in organizing various programs in their health centers. The give out free samples and become ‘knowledge agents’ to the 'victims' who do not know their rights, When these practices becomes commonplace, they are no longer considered wrong.

That was our long and heartfelt concerns. Thank you Deputy Minister for taking the time to listen to us. He smiled a lot, without giving much response. But my heart indeed felt a little lighter, being heard.. 
At the end of the visit, he commented, "This is the first time I presided over a meeting where the chairman was not given an opportunity to speak!". Ooops!

Thank you my fellow advocates who gave their strong opinions and added much weight in our meeting with the Ministry of Health Malaysia. We will march to Parliament next!


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