Disasters and breastfeeding

Some years ago, I was involved in an attempt to stop a group of well-intentioned women from donating formula milk to Laventille, so that “the poor children could have something to eat.”

Nothing I said or did could change their minds and the formula duly arrived in the Laventille Health Centre where it contributed to that year’s outbreak of gastro. A side-effect of this move would have been a decline in the number of children being breastfed, something that is seen, to the delight of those with money invested in formula companies, whenever formula is introduced into a culture as an emergency short-term measure.

Until about five years ago, it used to be mandatory for NGOs sending supplies to disaster areas to beg, in the first instance, for formula. Paediatricians have long known that this is a recipe for further disaster but it has taken many years and deaths for this lesson to be learned by official and non-official organisations.