Statement on sponsorship of RCPCH/MENA conference

The RCPCH appreciates the concerns raised by some of its members about the sponsorship arrangements for the forthcoming RCPCH / MENA Conference in Cairo next week, and would like to comment as follows.

The 2016 WHA Resolution 69.9 clarification of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (“The WHO Code”) was indeed welcomed by the World Health Assembly, but it was not adopted as part of the WHO Code, and therefore we consider that engagement with formula milk companies in supporting meetings of health professionals and academic and scientific meetings is a legitimate activity and not in breach of the Code. 

The RCPCH’s engagement with formula milk companies is undertaken only under our strict due diligence arrangements which ensures that any funding received is independent of any educational activity, that declarations of interest of speakers are clearly published and that exhibitor activity is separated from the scientific meeting and concerns only specialist milks. This due diligence policy has remained consistent since its ratification by RCPCH Council and its Trustees following consultation with members in 2016.

Every company that supports a meeting undergoes the RCPCH’s due diligence process, and Nestle and Danone have demonstrated to the due diligence panel that they are committed to upholding the principles of the WHO Code in all territories in which they market breast milk substitutes. If breaches occur, they are committed to remedying them quickly and to use best endeavours to ensure there is no repeat. 

Abbott Nutrition have not completed their due diligence process, and they will not be present at the RCPCH/MENA Conference. The presence of the Abbott logo on the conference’s website was an error, which has now been corrected. There are three formula milk divisions (two companies) out of a total of 16 industry supporters, all of which have undergone due diligence enquiries.

The RCPCH considered carefully the idea of a conference in Egypt, and while it recognises that there are more challenging marketing conditions for breastfeeding in low to middle income countries, it determined that the opportunity to share knowledge and the latest learning in numerous aspects of child health with Egyptian health professionals was very important, and should be supported. The RCPCH has also taken into account that it has not been made aware, through its due diligence processes, of specific breaches of the WHO Code in Egypt. 

The RCPCH strongly supports breastfeeding, which gives babies the best possible start in life. In its 2017 position statement on breastfeeding, the RCPCH notes its support for the promotion of breastfeeding, the provision of advice and support for women and national policies, practices and legislation that are conducive to breastfeeding. 

The RCPCH is acutely aware of the sensitivities around the marketing of breast milk substitutes and insists through its due diligence process on the engagement of formula milk companies on a global level, on an ongoing basis, to address and improve their performance, which is assessed by independent audit. It is through this ongoing contact and engagement that the RCPCH considers it can best influence future marketing behaviours around the world. 

Published: 23 January 2019