Erratic infant formula supply puts PMTCT at risk

The health department met with representatives of Nestl in the capital, Pretoria, this week to discuss shortages of the infant formula, Nan Pelargon, provided by the state to the babies of HIV-positive mothers. The company holds a government tender for providing infant formula to 2,525 sites countrywide for the national prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT) programme.

Formula feeding reduces the risk of transmission via breast milk by one-third, and women enrolling in the programme are advised to bottle-feed. But the shortfall in supplying the formula could jeopardize the PMTCT campaign. We are unable to quantify the extent of the problem. There have been isolated reports, with hospitals reporting [shortages] to provincial authorities ... these have been coming mainly from Gauteng, the Western Cape and the Free state [provinces], health department spokesman Sibani Mngadi told PlusNews. According to Nestl, the shortages were partly due to a 20 percent increase in demand for the formula in 2004, which had been exacerbated by a strike at production facilities.

The department of health is expecting a comprehensive report from Nestl in two weeks' time on steps taken to resolve the problem. We need them to deliver - they signed a contract and they need to explain themselves on how much they've varied from the conditions, Mngadi remarked. In a statement the company said, In order to address the shortage, we have reopened our Bethal factory and have commissioned our Brazilian market to assist us to meet our backlog and current needs. The supply will improve over the coming weeks and should gradually normalize as of October. The government has advised affected provinces to redirect stock from facilities with adequate supplies to clinics and hospitals experiencing shortages.

(Source: IrinNews, 19 August 2005, 2005)