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Health Ministry pulls up Nestle arm for ‘sponsoring’ Apollo conference

Maitri Porecha New Delhi | Updated on January 13, 2020 Published on January 13, 2020

Says pharma giant’s participation in Indore event of the hospital was in violation of Infant Milk Substitutes Act

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has initiated action against Nestle Health Science for sponsoring a nutrition conference organised by the Apollo Group of Hospitals, saying it went against the Infant Milk Substitutes Act.

The Ministry and Madhya Pradesh’s Department of Health maintain that Nestle and Apollo are in violation of the Infant Milk Substitutes, Feeding Bottles and Infant Foods (Regulation of Production, Supply & Distribution) Act, 1992 and Amendment Act, 2003 (IMS) Act.

“No producer, supplier or distributor referred to in Sub-section (1) shall offer or give any contribution or pecuniary benefit to a health worker or any association of health workers, including funding of seminar, meeting, conference, educational course, contest, fellowship, research work or sponsorship,” says Section 9 (2) of the IMS Act.

Sub-section (1) refers to anyone who produces, supplies, distributes, or sells infant milk substitutes, feeding bottles or infant foods. Nestle comes under the purview of the IMS Act because it sells infant food, and Apollo because it can be deemed an association of health workers.

On January 8, Madhya Pradesh’s Food and Drugs Administration issued a show-cause notice to Nestle Health Science in Gurugram and the Manager of Apollo Hospitals in Indore, indicating that they had violated Section 9 (2) of the IMS Act and that they should respond to the notice within 10 days.

After it came to the notice of the Health Ministry that Nestle’s arm was one of the sponsors of the 11th Apollo International Clinical Nutrition, Update 2019, organised on September 21 and 22 at Pride Hotel and Convention Centre in Indore, it wrote to the Madhya Pradesh government to take appropriate action. The conference charged ₹1,000-5,000 as registration fees.

On November 11, the Health Ministry’s Child Health Division wrote to M.P.’s Principal Secretary (Health) to initiate action under the IMS Act.

In 2018, Nestle has supported the Apollo Clinical Nutrition Update 2018, in Chennai.

Nestle refutes allegation

To BusinessLine’s queries, a Nestle India spokesperson said: “We strongly refute this allegation. We participated in the 11th Apollo International Clinical Nutrition Update along with other healthcare nutrition companies, by setting up a stall to share scientific and factual information for our resource range, such as Resource Diabetic, Resource Renal, Resource Dialysis, Resource Opti, Resource High Protein, Novasource NutriHep and Peptamen range of products. These products are meant for critically ill patients, individuals who require disease-specific nutritional supplements.

It further claimed, “The IMS Act does not discourage or prohibit dissemination of scientific information. Section 9 of the IMS Act prohibits financial inducement to health workers or any contribution or pecuniary benefit including funding of seminar, conference, etc, for the purpose of promoting the use of infant milk substitutes or bottles or foods. We are not in violation of Section 9 of the IMS Act.”

But Arun Gupta, a paediatrician from the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India, said: “Nowhere in Section 9 (1) and Section 9 (2) of the IMS Act is what the company claims. Section 9 (2) simply says that no one who produces, supplies, distributes or sells infant milk substitutes or feeding bottles or infant foods can fund any conference or seminar. It does not mention whether it is for the purpose of promoting the use of infant milk substitutes or not. This is the interpretation of the government when it served the notice to the company.”

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Published on January 13, 2020
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