Science and the advances it has brought to our lives has been incredible when you think about it. Our lives have been enriched by new medicines, new techniques, innovations we never dreamed of are now coming to the fore. But one advance, in the world of nourishment, has a dark past and it has lingered under the radar for over four decades. I speak, of course, of the scandal surrounding the giant Nestle company, headquartered in Switzerland.
The marketing of Nestle baby formula spread quickly into third-world countries where mothers were eager to employ what they
saw as new, scientific advances benefitting their children. The goal was to educate mothers that infant formula was superior to breast feeding. The problem was that clean water was needed to make the formula and there was a lack of information about that fact by the marketing teams sent to these countries.
The teams of women were to convince the women that baby formula was better for their babies and they were dressed to appear as
though they were nurses — they weren’t. It was the same thing we see in TV commercials today for marketing drug rehabs and medications; actors in physician’s garb. The appearance is there but it’s all a Hollywood movie set with no substance. Wear a stethoscope around your neck and a white jacket and you’re “it.”
Women received the formula with open arms and fed it to their infants; the infants died and continued to die despite their mother’s efforts. Why was this happening? The women were torn by grief and blamed themselves. Who stepped in to help them see it wasn’t them but the formula and the unclean water? Will we ever know?
Unbelievably, the tale is one of marketing over life and a disregard for anything but the bottom line. Where else might something like this have happened? Only time will tell that, too.
Who will be held accountable for the estimated 60,000 babies who died as a result of being fed this unclean baby formula? How many grieving mothers will see some form of retribution for their incredible losses?
Ethics, it would seem, has taken a back seat to marketing and it hasn’t stopped with this dreadful example. An arthritis drug, which may have caused 1100 deaths or more, was marketed. The patients were never made aware of its potential danger or the deaths it caused.
The problem is even more pervasive if you consider that at-risk groups may be given products that are associated with significant risks and never told about them. How many are enrolled in trials of new procedures or products that may, ultimately, result in their deaths? We depend on the maintenance of high ethical standards and yet this would not seem to be the case in too many instances.
Some times, medical professionals fail to keep up on the literature for some medications. A friend told me she had been given a new diabetes drug. I asked if her physician did blood-work and looked at her urine. No, she said, but she’d mention it to him at her next appointment. “Oh, yes,” he remarked, “let me do that.” The med has been seen as having serious side effects in some patients and urine testing must be done prior to prescribing.
African-American men were enrolled in the Tuskegee medical study of syphilis and never told they weren’t receiving treatment
Where are we now when ethics are given short shrift in the current political climate? Will there be more dangerous merchandise promoted to an unwary public? Who will stand for us and be our protectors if the usual forces have been tamped down or cut off at the knees by political action?
The questions need to be asked and answered and those responsible for heinous acts must be held accountable.