Friday, March 24, 2023
HomeHealthGovt shoots off letters to doctors, seeks answer on seminars ‘sponsored’ by...

Govt shoots off letters to doctors, seeks answer on seminars ‘sponsored’ by baby-food makers

In a separate letter to the Women & Child Development Ministry, the Ministry of Health has said the matter needs to be examined and ‘necessary actions’ taken.

Text Size:

New Delhi: The Modi government has shot off letters to India’s top lobby groups for paediatricians and gynaecologists in light of malpractice allegations surrounding five web seminars “sponsored by” US-based pharma giant Abbott and European food major Danone, ThePrint has learnt. 

Both the companies are under the scanner for allegedly promoting their baby-food products in violation of a law that protects, promotes and supports breastfeeding in India. 

The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, in two separate letters dated 18 August, has asked the Indian Academy of Pediatrics (IAP) and the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India (FOGSI) to “clarify” the reason why the “sponsored” webinars were organised. 

According to the letters, which have been accessed by ThePrint, the events appear “to be directly violating” India’s law on breastfeeding. 

The IAP is a group representing over 28,000 paediatricians, while the FOGSI represents over 38,000 Indian obstetrics and gynaecologists. 

The letters follow a complaint from NGO Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI), which has been notified by the government to monitor compliance with the Infant Milk Substitutes, Feeding Bottles and Infant Foods Act (commonly known as IMS Act).  

In its complaint, submitted to Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan, the BPNI accused Abbott and Danone of sponsoring online seminars for doctors between 23 May and 8 August. 

The controversy is rooted in a global campaign to encourage breast-feeding, which experts say is the ideal source of nutrition for infants. The campaign, which demands restrictions on misleading advertisements about substitutes like formula, has seen baby-food sales sustain a severe blow.

Health activists believe such sponsored seminars are a tool baby-food companies employ to promote their products, an allegation both Danone and Abbott have denied.

ThePrint sent text messages to IPA president Dr Bakul Jayant Parekh and FOGSI chief Dr Alpesh Gandhi for comments for this report, but they were yet to respond at the time of publishing. 

Also Read: All focus on Covid ignores India’s silent epidemic — malnutrition. Our children are at risk

‘Prompt and necessary action’

In the letters to the IAP and the FOGSI, Bhushan has asked the bodies to take “prompt and necessary action to comply with the provisions of the IMS Act and to ensure that such incidences never take place in the future”. 

Referring to the BPNI complaint, the secretary has asked IPA president Parekh to furnish the details regarding “four webinars” organised by the lobby under alleged Abbott sponsorship. 

In the letter to FOGSI, marked to chief Gandhi, Bhushan has sought details on an 18 June webinar “sponsored” by Danone where the subject was ‘Nutrition First for First 1000 Days’. 

Bhushan said “it is clearly stated under section 9 (2) of the IMS Act that ‘no producer, supplier or distributor referred to in sub-section (l) shall offer or give any contribution or pecuniary benefit to a health worker or any association of health workers, including funding of seminar, meeting, conferences, educational course, contest, fellowship, research work or sponsorship”.

He also pointed out that offences under the Infant Milk Substitutes, Feeding Bottles and Infant Foods Act 1992, and Amendment Act 2003 (lMS Act) are cognisable.

Both letters are also marked to Union Women & Child Development Ministry Secretary Ram Mohan Mishra since the implementation of the IMS Act falls under WCD jurisdiction. 

In a third letter addressed to Mishra alone and also dated 18 August, Bhushan has requested his WCD counterpart to “get this matter examined and issue instructions to the concerned to take immediate necessary actions”.  

Also Read: Want babies to be healthy? Let them be in charge of what they eat

Abbott, Danone deny wrongdoing

Both Abbott and Danone, in an emailed response to questions from ThePrint earlier this month, had denied any wrongdoing. “No infant formula products were discussed or showcased in this webinar,” the spokesperson of Danone had said

“At Danone, we implement and enforce strict policies to ensure compliant marketing practices and would like to reiterate that we have not violated the IMS Act by supporting the recent FOGSI webinar on ‘Nutrition First for First 1000 Days’.”

The spokesperson added, “This was a scientific forum for gynaecologists with independent medical experts, to enhance their knowledge. Danone supports the WHO guidelines and public health recommendations which call for exclusive breast-feeding for the first 6 months of life, and continued breast-feeding up to two years and beyond.”

Abbott offered a similar clarification. 

“All webinars mentioned in the letter are in compliance with applicable laws including the IMS Act,” a company spokesperson said.

“We’re committed to advancing and elevating standards of medical science and we partner with healthcare professionals to support dissemination of scientific knowledge to meet the evolving needs of people in India, including the nutritional needs of children.”

Also Read: Health drinks like Bournvita, Horlicks give your kids more sugar & hardly any nutrition


Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Support Our Journalism

India needs fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism, packed with on-ground reporting. ThePrint – with exceptional reporters, columnists and editors – is doing just that.

Sustaining this needs support from wonderful readers like you.

Whether you live in India or overseas, you can take a paid subscription by clicking here.

Support Our Journalism

Most Popular