Milk “money”: How much are we talking about?

Source: David Precious/CC BY 2.0Source: David Precious/CC BY 2.0

Private hospitals reviewing formula-milk arrangements

I refer to the article “Private hospitals reviewing formula – milk arrangements ” (Straits Times, May 12).

It states that “Mount Alvernia Hospital yesterday said that it does not accept sponsorships or payments from infant formula milk makers to offer their brands to new mothers.

It does, however, allow these companies to sponsor activities which educate patients on baby care and nutrition.

Formula milk companies invest significant marketing resources in hospitals to gain a “first-mover” advantage, the report said, noting that most parents do not switch formula brands later.

Meanwhile, Thomson Medical said suppliers pay the same amount each for their brands to be part of its monthly rotation, and most of the money is channelled to support activities that benefit patients.”

How much money in total?

I think an important piece of information may be missing, amidst all the furore in the media about this issue.

What is the total sum in dollar terms of all the milk powder companies’ activities in all the hospitals?

One source told me that an estimate may be close to $10 million a year.

If we include all the types of businesses that do this sort of thing – the total sum may be in the tens of millions of dollars.

Since at the end of the day, it may be the consumer who pays – is it any wonder that our milk powder prices may be one of the most expensive in the world, especially when compared to our neighbouring countries?

As to “Other private hospitals offering maternity services – Raffles and Parkway Pantai, which Mount Elizabeth, Mount Elizabeth Novena, Gleneagles and Parkway East hospitals are under – said that they will review their policies and practices, but did not say whether they accept sponsorships or fees for their milk rotation programmes” – does not saying “no” mean “yes”?

With regard to “Parkway Pantai said that milk companies sponsor and support nursing education, and it will review and align its practices, given the CCS recommendations.

Mount Alvernia also said it will study recommendations to review current sponsorship arrangements and make adjustments if necessary” – what exactly is expected to change from the current “can do” to the future “cannot do”?.

In respect of “Raffles, Thomson and Mount Alvernia said that they are working towards Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) certification, which bars sponsorship arrangements with formula companies.

No BFHI-certified private hospitals

All three public hospitals offering maternity services – KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, the National University Hospital and the Singapore General Hospital – are BFHI-certified” – according to the article “Private hospitals support breastfeeding over infant formula” (Today, May 12) – “In response to the competition watchdog’s findings, the Ministry of Health said in a statement on Wednesday that it would “strongly encourage” all hospitals providing maternity services to achieve BFHI certification, noting that hospitals are “important touch-points” for parents.

“None of the private hospitals offering maternity services has obtained such certification to date, and we hope that they will see that this is beneficial to their patients and will come on board to support the initiative.””

In this connection, the BFHI is a worldwide programme of the World Health Organization and UNICEF, launched in 1991, and more than 15,000 facilities in more than 152 countries have been inspected and accredited as “Baby-Friendly.

For example, in Taiwan – “In 2014 78.60% of babies were born in BFHI hospitals. Between 2001 and 2013, the increase in certified hospitals was from 38 to 176”.

“The BFHI aims to increase the numbers of babies who are exclusively breastfed worldwide, a goal which the WHO estimates could contribute to avoiding over a million child deaths each year, and potentially many premature maternal deaths as well”.

Who’s sleeping on the job?

In view of the above information – why is a world class healthcare nation like Singapore, arguably, so backward in this regard?

Transparency please?

As to “Formula milk companies Danone Dumex, Abbott, Nestle and FrieslandCampina said they are studying the CCS report and are cooperating with the authorities. Mead Johnson Nutrition did not respond to queries on the report by press time” – when can we expect to have more transparency and accountability from the hospitals, milk companies and the authorities?

Leong Sze Hian

About the Author

Leong
Leong Sze Hian has served as president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), invited to speak more than 200 times in over 30 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of Indonesia and Brunei. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.