The milk of human kindness. How to make a simple morality tale out of a complex public health issue.

Yamey G
BMJ. British Medical Journal. 2001 Jan 6; 322(7277):57-8.

On December 5, 2000, the Wall Street Journal ran a lead news story and an accompanying editorial claiming that donations from baby food manufacturers would stop the mother-to-child transmission of HIV. The article contended that the UN Children's Fund's (UNICEF) feud against the formula industry was to be blamed for allowing AIDS to spread, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, and for killing millions of children. In 6 days, the American dailies had taken a highly contentious health issue and turned it into a battle between the corporations and the international health agency. Despite assaults from the media, as well as from several UN officials, UNICEF remains firm in its stance against accepting donations. Carole Bellamy, executive director of UNICEF, explained that a rush to promote formula feeding could lead to the spread of other infectious diseases. Bellamy notes that if formula is to be used, it needs to be done in a targeted manner. Moreover, Bellamy argued that the paper failed to acknowledge that UNICEF is leading the way in addressing mother-to-child transmission. WHO officials also expressed frustration at the paper for implying that formula donations were the easy answer to the difficult HIV/AIDS crisis. However, the Wall Street Journal rejected the powerful criticisms it has received from the international community and has made no apologies for the story and the hard-hitting editorial.

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