Allergies, asthma and money




Who makes money when children are sick, when children have chronic disease such as asthma or allergies? The pharmaceutical industry of course.


     When research appeared in newspapers across the world that breastfeeding contributed to the risk of allergy and asthma in children, those working in infant and young child health were astounded. The McMaster based research was so out of line with what other centres had reported, that the first response by those who questioned the doubtful results, was “who funded this research?” as well as questions of “conflict of interest” and how this negative information gets published in newspapers around the world, including Africa, where artificial feeding can be deadly, so readily?


    Well, after numerous telephone calls, e-mails and some net searches, certain information has emerged. It appears that the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline has an interest in allergies and asthma. It recently announced a $1-million investment to establish a McMaster University Research Chair in pediatric asthma at the Firestone Institute for Respiratory Health, St. Joseph Healthcare Hamilton. The department is positively swimming in corporate sponsorships!


    And that’s not the only asthma connection for the seemingly generous GlaxoSmithKline. There’s the Asthma Society of Canada, the Lung Association and check out the Asthma Landmark SurveyTM all “linked” to the maker of various inhalators, dilators, sprays etc. to treat asthmas and allergies with not a word about prevention.


    “The creation of this Chair is part of the GlaxoSmithKline Pathfinders Fund for Leaders in Canadian Health Science Research, a $10 million initiative to help fight the brain drain in Canada by providing opportunities for leading medical researchers and potentially lead to pioneering new treatments (our emphasis) for Canadian children with asthma.”    

     This is certainly one brain drain the mothers of Canada would welcome. Anyone who receives corporate funds to tell us that our milk is inadequate, so that the pharm corp can use our babes for their research trials to find profitable “treatments,” is welcome to take a hike.


    Also of importance are the questions raised regarding the ease of publication of research with apparent methodological flaws and outcomes that bear no resemblance to previously published research on asthma and infant feeding.


    First, the breastfeeding cohort was not exclusively breastfed. Recalls and third party documentation of infant feeding practices can hardly be deemed a reliable means to verify exclusivity of breastfeeding. Additionally infants received cow’s milk formulas for the postnatal hospital duration and mixed feeding was the usual practice at the time the data was collected (1972 to 1973). Exclusive breastfeeding was not really defined let alone promoted until 1988. The possibility exists that another conclusion can be made noting the longterm danger of supplements given during the neonatal period.


    Secondly, why the rush to publish, when the results are so out of line with what others have reported? Surely a concerned scientist would discuss with the wider research community these “unanticipated” results. Dialogue with others in the field, a thorough peer review of methods used, the need for accurate infant feeding definitions and an independent review of the raw data would be the ethical and scientifically honest means to follow. The worldwide sensational dissemination of these results can only be regarded with suspicion.


    Thirdly, it seems that each year here in Canada where World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated from October 1 to 7 there are media reports attempting to sabotage the efforts by many health care workers, public health facilities and mothers’ groups to highlight the importance of breastfeeding for mothers and children. We log this as another attempt.


 “…a baby nursing at a mother’s breast…is an undeniable affirmation of our rootedness in nature.”

—David Suzuki in The Toronto Star, April 18, 1992



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