Why allow sponsorships by milk formula companies?

Even though the Sale of Infant Foods Ethics Committee Singapore (Sifecs) does not permit financial incentives to be offered to hospitals to promote products, I find it disturbing that it is such a widespread practice (Milk formula companies provide sponsorships, payments to private hospitals to stay on milk rotation systems; ST Online, May 10).

It is incredible that Sifecs chairman Professor Ho Lai Yun claims that the Code of Ethics does not cover sponsorship by infant formula milk companies.

Paying private hospitals to distribute milk products to newborns is unethical and drives up formula milk prices in Singapore (Call to end formula milk firms' aggressive tactics; May 11).

Certain private hospitals already have a reputation for overcharging.

Such practices have driven up healthcare costs.

To avoid conflict of interest, facilities certified by the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative are barred from sponsorship arrangements with infant milk manufacturers.

But it appears that few private hospitals offering maternity services have obtained certification.

An International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes has been developed by the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Children's Fund.

However, infant milk companies continue to promote their products and make baseless claims about their products' benefits.

They have now gained a foothold in several private hospitals, which is arguably the most effective way of securing new customers.

In 2013, Dumex was found guilty of bribing doctors and nurses from medical facilities in Tianjin to promote its products and feed them to newborn babies.

How different are sponsorship arrangements from bribery?

Private hospitals which benefit from them are actively discouraging breastfeeding, which does not bode well for infant health in our country.

Simon Owen Khoo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2017, with the headline 'Why allow sponsorships by milk formula companies?'. Print Edition | Subscribe