Ethics is apparently not a strong point of doctors in Pakistan, with a report that some have been promoting infant formulas in exchange for financial commissions from manufacturing companies. This unethical practice needs to be monitored, but more so because of its impact on families — especially those who are barely able to afford the formula. In one case, a mother used a larger ratio of water to formula, causing her five-month-old infant to land up in hospital with severe diarrhoea and weakening health — which, at that age, can be fatal. In order to prevent poor health for babies, a government body should be set up to oversee and ensure ethical practices.
The popularity of recommending infant formula — as to 84 per cent of mothers included in a recent survey — might be blamed for the prevalence of malnourishment and stunted children in Pakistan, because uninformed mothers alter the preparation ratio to use less formula without realising its potential consequences. Along with the Breastfeeding Ordinance of 2002, which discourages pharmacies from selling baby formula, Pakistan needs a law for ethical practices by doctors and manufacturing companies. Baby formula should still be sold to mothers who are unable to breastfeed but companies must not be allowed to pay doctors to promote their products. Healthcare professionals should instead promote breastfeeding, as its benefits are numerous and universally acknowledged. Once in the field, many doctors are more about practice, profit and fame than keeping up with ethics and research.
In Pakistan, we have yet to develop a system wherein doctors are forced to act ethically because their careers depend on it. It is urgent that the government make an ethics course for healthcare professionals mandatory and simultaneously create a check and balance system so that helpless infants’ lives are not jeopardised by greedy doctors, uninformed mothers and manufacturing companies that buy off doctors in order to promote their products.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 7th, 2013.