Speech by Dato’ (Dr.) Anwar Fazal, Chairperson Emeritus of the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) at the launch of the film, “Tigers” in conjunction with the 11th One Asia Breastfeeding Conference held in Putrajaya, Malaysia on Monday, 2nd November 2015..
CELEBRATING A BREASTFEEDING HERO, A COURAGEOUS WHISTLE BLOWER – SYED AAMIR RAZA OF PAKISTAN AND THE FILM “TIGERS” MADE BY OSCAR AWARD WINNING FILMMAKER, DANIS TANOVIC.
The world breastfeeding movement has many heroes, many champions who promote, protect and support breastfeeding. There are the millions of mothers who despite so many difficulties, lack of support and vicious and ignorant undermining continue to give their babies their best, milk from their breasts. They nurture the future through what I describe as the miracle five: medicine, nutrition, ecology, economy and the wonder and joy of the bonding that goes with latching.
From time to time, there are also some very special people who display their conscience, their courage to challenge wasteful, harmful and manipulative substitutes pathetically called “formulas” – some would say “formulas for disaster”. The United Nations has often spoken about how we can avoid the death of thousands of babies a day globally if only babies were breastfed exclusively from the start (Do get a copy of the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action’s (WABA) especially powerful poster, “21 Dangers of Infant Formulas”).
One of those wonderful brave persons was a young woman doctor from Jamaica, Dr. Ceceliy Williams, who worked here in Malaysia some eighty years ago who was so shocked with what substitute milks were doing to babies here and how they were being promoted that she gave a bold, historic lecture titled “Milk & Murder”. Yes, she said giving such milk was murder because those who promoted it knew the harm it was causing. Dr. Williams served as a prisoner of war for some three years in Singapore during World War 2. When the war ended, she told the world “20 babies were born in the prison camps. All 20 babies were breastfed and all the 20 babies survived. You could not do better than that”, she said. Dr Williams later became the first head of the maternal unit in the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Then there was a story of a group of students who called themselves the Declaration de Berne who translated into German, an iconic book of the movement “The Baby Killer Scandal” by the late Andy Chetley of War On Want but decided bravely, deliberately and provocatively had the title changed to “Nestle Kills Babies”. Nestle was among the biggest firms in the “infant formula” business. The group was sued by the Company and for the months of the trial, the world quickly learned of this global tragedy of babies dying. It triggered a worldwide revolution that founded the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and led to a World Health Organisation (WHO) International code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. It lead to what people thought impossible – the prohibition of advertising infant formula and free samples and many other things.
Today, we celebrate another hero who displayed his conscience and courage to expose the wrongdoings of the same major infant formula company, Nestle, in Pakistan. They were clearly breaking rules and committing abuses. Sadly, despite the hero’s best efforts to expose these abuses, he was threatened severely and had to flee his country to Germany, to the UK and finally to Canada, where he was granted residential status and now lives.
This compelling story moved many people and the Oscar Award winning Director, Danis Tanovic, of Bosnia, was inspired to make a special documentary called “Tigers” (a term used by the company to describe their sales representatives). That movie was a resounding success when it was shown first on 8th September 2014 at the Toronto International Film Festival. Shortly after, it won the Solidarity Award at the San Sebastian Film Festival and received a standing ovation from some 1800 people who attended that European premiere. Some outstanding actors played the different roles brilliantly.
Today we have with us the hero himself, Syed Aamir Raza, who has come all the way here with several family members. Please welcome him.
Today also with us are three remarkable people from the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) whose support made the difference:
· Annelies Allain, Director, IBFAN – International Code Documentation Centre (ICDC) from Penang, Malaysia, who first assessed his evidence while in New Delhi (where he attended an IBFAN/ICC Conference) and spurred him to further action.
· Dr. Arun Gupta, Head of IBFAN Asia and the Breastfeeding Action Network of India (BPNI) who assisted in the communication and also gave warmth and most of all, solidarity.
· Patti Rundall from Baby Milk Action, UK, who played a critical role in facilitating in the making of the film and generously giving him a home and hospitality and now the promotion of the film through its website, www.babymilkaction.org.
Please welcome these special people too. We will later after the screening, hear from the hero himself and his solidarity partners.
I will not speak about the dramatic, beautiful and powerful portrayal of the amazing “David and Goliath” story and the many dramas of the journey of an honest young sales representative, euphemistically to impress the doctors, called “medical representative” or “medical delegate”.
Enjoy the film of this man’s conscience and courage, and the support of his very special wife and dad who stood with him through all the trials and tribulations.
Enjoy this story of a whistle blower, another person who dares to expose the abuse by those who are only hungry for profits and undermining the lives of our babies, our children and our future.
Enjoy and be inspired by the brave persons who are devoting their lives to nurturing the future through breastfeeding their babies and ensuring their first food, and first right.
Enjoy and thank you.