Code violator Medela removed as platinum sponsor for conference in Kuwait

In a surprise turn of events, the sponsorship from Medela, a persistent Code violator, was removed from a Kuwaiti conference when a speaker objected to the sponsorship.

A Kuwaiti non-profit community health network, BirthKuwait, removed Code violator Medela as a platinum sponsor shortly before its “Birth and Breastfeeding Conference” began in November 2018. BirthKuwait claimed it was under the impression that Medela does not violate the Code but acted at the 11th hour to redress the situation.  Breastfeeding advocates in the Arab World including IBFAN Regional Coordinator, Dr Ghada Sayed, and Dubai neonatologist and lactation consultant, Dr Khalid Iqbal, objected to the Medela sponsorship. But it was after Dr. Jack Newman, a renowned physician and breastfeeding expert and an invited speaker at the conference, joined the chorus of objections in a show of solidarity that the organisers relented.

Dr. Newman also issued a formal statement via his Facebook account: “This is to inform all those who follow and like me on Facebook that because of my objections to Medela being a sponsor of the conference in Kuwait, the conference has cancelled Medela’s sponsorship at a significant financial cost to them. Medela is a notorious World Health Organization Code breaker, all over the world, though they try to give the impression that they are not and are supportive of breastfeeding. They market pumps and bottles as “imitating breastfeeding” and teach lactation consultants and physicians all over the world that breastmilk in a bottle is equivalent to breastfeeding and encourage pumping and bottles when they are not truly necessary”.

Retrieved from https://www.medela.com/breastfeeding/products/feeding/calma – Accessed on 15 November 2018

Calma feeding bottle and teat being promoted as “close to breastfeeding” and “allows natural switching between breast and bottle”.

Dr. Newman’s statement and the reaction it prompted shows how important it is for health professionals and health professional associations alike to take a stand against sponsorship of events by companies who are Code violators.  After being unceremoniously booted out by a host in the Middle East, it will be sometime before Medela offers a “platinum” sponsorship in the region.   ICDC congratulates Dr. Newman for making his position clear. His leadership in this matter will be an inspiration to many. ICDC also commends BirthKuwait for taking the courageous step of reversing its earlier decision of accepting the platinum sponsorship even though there must be significant financial cost to them. This sends an important message to persistent Code violators that they are not welcomed at breastfeeding events and that efforts will be present at all such events to avoid conflicts of interests.

Photo: International Breastfeeding Centre (https://ibconline.ca/)

Dr Jack Newman – “The Power of One”

Companies often portray sponsorship of events as part of its corporate social responsibility but in reality, it is an effective marketing strategy that links the company name to respected health professionals and health professional associations.  Very often, these sponsored events are used as a platform for the promotion of company products. Health professionals and their associations who receive sponsorship are perceived as endorsing the products of the sponsoring company. The goodwill garnered at such events is also very valuable to companies.  Sponsorship is at the end of the day, an arm of marketing.  Every dollar invested will receive returns.

The following World Health Assembly Resolution warns against conflicts of interest:-

Resolution WHA 47.5 [1994]
Member States are urged to ensure that all health personnel concerned are trained in appropriate infant and young child feeding practices, including the application of the principles laid down in the joint WHO/UNICEF statement on breastfeeding and the role of maternity services.

Resolution WHA 49.15 [1996]
Member States are urged to ensure that the financial support for professionals working in infant and young child health does not create conflicts of interest, especially with regard to the WHO/UNICEF Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative.

Resolution WHA 58.32 [2005]
Member States are urged to ensure that financial support and other incentives for programmes and health professionals working in infant and young child health do not create conflicts of interest.

Resolution WHA 61.20 [2008]
Member States are urged to strengthen implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent relevant WHA resolutions by scaling up efforts to monitor and enforce national measures in order to protect breastfeeding while keeping in mind the WHA resolutions to avoid conflicts of interest.

Acceptance of funding or other incentives, however conditional, creates a sense of obligation and loyalty to the company in question. This is exactly what health professional associations … should avoid. They have a moral obligation to protect themselves and their members from inappropriate promotion of BMS in all forms, however indirect, and from resulting competing interests in healthcare settings. Furthermore, health professional associations have a moral obligation to respect and protect women’s and children’s rights to be free from all forms of inappropriate marketing practices.

Costello, A. et al  (2017). Health professional associations and industry funding. The Lancet, 389(10069), 597-598.