Saturday

Destination: Heartbreak Hurricane Katrina-part 6


In 2004, Volusia County Florida was hit with back to back hurricanes. Charlie hit first and was a surprise visit. I had lived in this area for 26 years and it was the first time I had had to make the decision to get everyone out of bed and sleeping in the hallway. Morning came and with it, I found my neighborhood in complete disarray. Debris everywhere, roads impassable in places and to my complete shock no stores open, no gas stations open. No power. Neighbors were outside talking to each other--that was a shock because in suburbia-land no one talks to your neighbor. Who has time for such pleasantries? With no power, no air conditioning, no refrigerators, no phones, no TV, no jobs; we had all of the outdoors and plenty of time to get to know our neighbors. How were we suppose to know what the heck was going on? I told my youngest that we were camping in the house--we camped for 9 days. It became word of mouth communication--there would be a truck at the Winn Dixie giving out free water. There was a gas station open and we would all line up. It was a challenge--it gets mighty hot in the south without air conditioning or fans. I was lucky, my house withstood the winds and we had little rain so no flooding. Money became very tight but I didn't lose my job. I can't imagine the horror of Hurricane Katrina. Our County suffered from the hurricanes. Some houses didn't get repaired for over a year and some not at all. People lost jobs. We all lost alot of sleep and alot of money. But in comparison to Katrina, it was just the false labor of a difficult pregnancy.
For many people in the US, there is little understanding of the need to regulate and carefully control infant formula in times of emergencies. Why regulate it or control it? Without electricity and without access to clean water, infant formula, particularly powdered infant formula increases the risk of diarrheal diseases in babies with an increased risk of fatalities. Infant formula preparation in times of emergencies is enormously difficult to make safely. Mothers with newborn and young babies should be encouraged to breastfeed, especially exclusively breastfeed. But if these products are given out without discussion and understanding of the realities of disasters, then many more women will use these free products. What happens to these mothers and babies, when donations stop but the need is just as great for these free products? After the worst is over, money is often scarce (even for those of us who are prepared). Social services can be overwhelmed. So how does a mother feed her baby, when the free stuff stops (even on WIC, mothers will still have to buy some infant formula out of pocket).
Out of curiosity I scanned many, many articles on the internet trying to get an idea of how much infant formula was airlifted and trucked into shelters after Hurricane Katrina. Alot...alot and most of it distributed like bottled water. Nestle writes, "Although it is not our normal policy to donate infant formula, Nestle USA has donated a supply of ready-to-feed infant formula and Nestle promotional partner Munchkins Inc is donating baby bottles..." Nestle at least understood the necessity of "ready-to-feed" infant formula. Although not the danger of bottles--WHO organizations recommends cups because bottles are difficult to clean. One of our local WIC nutritionists use to always say to new WIC moms, "if you want ready-to-feed, breastfeed!!" (WIC does not normally provide ready-to-feed formulas). I ran across pictures from an organization called Compassionate Alliance in which they were trucking what appears to be powdered infant formula (along with food and water). Many churches, universities, and charities appealed for infant formula. How much went to shelters? Unknown. Mentioned were pallets of Ross ready to feed, Mead Johnson ready to feed. PBM Products (Bright Beginnings formulas and members mark brand formulas available in WalMart, Target, Publix, etc) contributed infant formula to Second Harvest (the largest domestic hunger-relief organization in USA). All ready-to feed because of the understanding of the limited availabilty of clean water. It was warehoused in Shreveport, Louisiana. March of Dimes mentions a collaboration with Mead Johnson in distributing ready to feed infant formula. Mead Johnson mentioned it shipped infant formula totaling more than $500,000 in value, 2 million bottles or cans of infant formula. GMA (Grocery Manufacturers of America) donated $10 million products including infant formula. PhRMA donated millions of cans of infant formula. Abbott donated 4.5 million in nutrition, medical and pharmaceutical products. Novartis donated $10.5 million in pharma and over the counter products including infant and baby and nutritional products. I even ran across an article that stated that Israel sent infant formula. The USDA sent a tractor trailor full of infant formula. It is difficult to get a good idea of how much infant formula was sent. How many babies needed the infant formula? How many actually got what they needed? How many new mothers or mothers with young babies might have breastfed their infants, if counseled about the risks of infant formula during emergencies? We are seeing rising rates of infant mortality in Louisiana. Those mortality rates are equivalent to or worse than some developing nations. But our nation still has the faith in infant formula. We will ship it and send it everywhere without regulation, given freely in times of disaster. Never seeming to recognize the disaster that follows, the morbidity and mortality of infants fed artificial milks. The free sample, the free product during a disaster serves a purpose in a market economy. Its a hook.....we are grateful to the companies that so kindly provide us with something for free. How kind of them. Of course we don't think about the tax write-off, nor how many people get hooked into having that free product. Like the free cigarettes given out to servicemen years ago, we aren't seeing the connections. We don't see the connections until it is too late. And some never see the connection because they can't picture reality without cigarettes.... or without infant formula.
Copyright 2008 Valerie W. McClain

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