Lancet series launch in India angers health activists

Series of papers calls for engaging private sector in fighting malnutrition

By Kundan Pandey
Published: Thursday 27 June 2013

Lancet, the world's leading general medical journal, recently published four papers on nutrition. Its  plan to release the papers formally in India on Friday has angered the country's public health experts. Lancet has called for engaging private sector in fighting malnutrition.

UNICEF estimates say about 46 per cent of all children below three in India are too small for their age, 47 per cent are underweight and at least 16 per cent are wasted. Advocating the important role of private sector in fighting malnutrition, Lancet published four papers on June 6. These papers would be formally launched in India to advocate urgent action to deal with the huge burden of malnutrition in the country.

Health experts have cautioned government about the possible commercial exploitation of malnutrition in the country. Many groups have written to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Union Ministry of Women and Child Development, against any such move.

Commercial angle

While endorsing the call of the post-2015 sustainable development goals agenda to address all forms of malnutrition as the top goals, the letter written on June 24 expresses reservation against the 'specific' solution being promoted. The health activists have appealed to policy makers that the Lancet Series on Nutrition, 2013 should not be allowed to create an opportunity for commercial exploitation of malnutrition. They also expressed their willingness to present their views in detail, if provided the opportunity.

The health experts raised concern over conflict of interest of the lead writer of the series and some other authors, particularly influential links with the food products and micronutrient industry. The matter merits serious consideration while interpreting the recommendations, say health experts.

Conflict of interest

Lancet has declared that two writers, Robert E Black and Venkatesh Mannar, have conflict of interest. The former serves on the boards of  Micronutrient Initiative, Vitamin Angels, the Child Health and Nutrition Research Initiative, and the Nestle Creating Shared Value Advisory Committee. Mannar serves on the Nestle Creating Shared Value Advisory Committee.

The experts include former national president of Indian Academy of pediatrics H P S Sachdev, member of prime minister’s council on India’s nutrition challenges, regional coordinator-IBFAN Asia, Arun Gupta,  professor with department of human nutrition at AIIMS, Umesh Kapil, executive director of Indian Academy of Pediatrics, Panna Choudhary, chairperson of IAP, sub-speciality chapter on nutrition, AP Dubey, Mira Shiva and national president of IAP, C P Bansal.

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