The 194 member states of the World Health Organisation (WHO) met recently in Geneva for the annual United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly. The delegation from Ecuador proposed a global public health resolution to encourage breastfeeding. The resolution stated that research evidence convincingly shows that mothers’ milk is healthiest for children, and called on governments to “protect, promote and support breastfeeding” and to strive to limit inaccurate or misleading marketing of breastmilk substitutes (infant formula).
The resolution was unsurprising. It was in keeping with many others made over the past decades supporting breastfeeding and was expected to be approved quickly and easily. What did surprise was that the delegation from the United States of America demanded the resolution be watered down. When Ecuador declined to do this, the USA threatened to unleash a punishing trade war and withdraw military assistance. Under such pressure, the Ecuadorean delegation capitulated. When another sponsor for the resolution was sought, at least a dozen poor countries from Africa and Latin America also backed away, fearing similar retaliation from the USA. In negotiations, some American delegates even suggested that the USA might cut its financial contribution to WHO.