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If anyone wonders why I boycott Nestle, here is a prime example:


Effort to cut AIDS a formula for disaster
A decade-long, global push to provide infant formula to mothers with the AIDS virus backfired in Botswana, leaving children more vulnerable to other, more immediately lethal conditions such as diarrhea, a U.S. team has found.



Nestle isn't the only culprit here, to be sure, but they are a primary contributor. 

NKANGE, Botswana - Doctors noticed two troubling things about the limp, sunken-eyed children who flooded pediatric wards across Botswana during the rainy season in early 2006: They were dying from diarrhea, a malady that is rarely fatal here. And few of their mothers were breast-feeding, a practice once all but universal.

After the outbreak was over and at least 532 children had died -- 20 times the usual toll for diarrhea -- a team of U.S. investigators solved the terrible riddle.

A decade-long, global push to provide infant formula to mothers with the AIDS virus had backfired in Botswana, leaving children more vulnerable to other, more immediately lethal diseases, the U.S. team found after investigating the outbreak at the request of Botswana's government.

In one village, Nkange, eight children under the age of two died during the 4-month outbreak.  Only two had ever been breastfed, and only one was breastfeeding at the time.

Chandapiwa Mavundu, 28, a mother of three who has HIV, said she never breast-fed her son, Kabelo, because government nurses warned her not to.

When he died at 8 months, after two months of withering diarrhea and vomiting, she could not muster the strength for the long walk to the graveyard. Instead, Mavundu stayed behind, she said, weeping amid the thatch-roofed huts and the dust and the goats as a hastily assembled parade of relatives carried her son's shrunken body away in a tiny, cream-colored coffin.

"That was the only boy child I had," said Mavundu, who has sad, wide-set eyes and long braids that dangle past her shoulders. "I loved him very much."

The medical records kept by Mavundu and other families here echoed the finding of the U.S. investigators: Government clinics often ran out of cans of formula, forcing parents and grandparents to buy cow's milk or feed their children with diluted porridge or even flour and water.

The problems were twofold: hitches in the supply system caused the formula shortages, and US inspectors found water contamination was also a serious problem.

While the entire story is heartbreaking, it's the last few paragraphs that are truly unsettling:

The debate, which has consumed global public health officials for years, has not reached the grieving mothers of Nkange village. None expressed any suspicions about water contamination or about the dangers of feeding formula rather than breast milk to babies.

"It was just an outbreak," Swimbo said.

Mavundu, who is pregnant again, has reached the same conclusion. Her new baby is due in October.

"I think it's a boy," she said, smiling, with her hand on her rounded belly.

Since the loss of Kabelo, Mavundu has also started on a combination of antiretroviral drugs that should control her AIDS symptoms and also make breast-feeding far safer. But no one has told her that.

When rainy season arrives in the first months of her new baby's life, she said, "I know that I will give the Nan*."

*Nan is a Nestle-brand formula.

Incidents such as this one just infuriate me.  Nestle and other formula manufacturers *know* that their product is not suited for areas where the people are poor, illiteracy rates are high, and access to clean water and sterilization tools are scarce, and yet they push it anyway.  They convince governments that their product is better than breastfeeding, at the cost of millions of infant lives every year.