SOUTH AFRICA: Professors spark breastfeeding outrage

South African HIV activists are outraged by a recommendation from world-renowned University of KwaZulu-Natal researchers, Hoosen Coovadia and Anna Coutsoudis, that the government should stop providing free formula milk to all HIV-infected mothers, writes Sara Barrett for the Mail & Guardian. This follows an article in the British medical journal, The Lancet, in which the professors argued that "the time has come to confront the obvious dangers of infant malnutrition and mortality associated with formula feeding."

In an accompanying briefing document, Coovadia and Coutsoudis wrote that "precious health funds, which could be better spent on more effective interventions, are being wasted on provision of free formula, with very little positive impact on the health of infants".

According to Mark Colvin from Maromi Health Research in Durban, which conducts intensive research into HIV, there is a 15% chance of HIV-infected women who breastfeed transmitting the virus to their babies. The likelihood of infection can be reduced to as low as 2% if these mothers breastfeed exclusively for six months and are also on antiretroviral treatment (ART). However, in South Africa, many women don't have access to ART.

In an interview with the Mail & Guardian, Coovadia argued that the risk of infant death from formula feeding in poor communities is often higher than the risk of HIV infection. "Women in particularly rural communities rarely have access to clean water and, as a result, babies die of diarrhoea and pneumonia because formula feeding provides them with little immune protection."
Full report on the Mail & Guardian site