(photo by Jesse McClain, 2007)
My interest in HIV and breastfeeding began during my employment with the WIC Program (1994-1998). A referral was made to me regarding a young mother who was hiv positive because of her wish to breastfeed her newborn son. My response to her was inadequate. All I knew at the time was that the CDC did not recommend that hiv positive women breastfeed. And that is what I told her. I found myself uneasy over my response to her and my own ignorance. I started wondering about the science behind the recommendation. In 1999 I was no longer employed by the WIC Program. I had received a computer as a gift from my Dad and while surfing the web ran across a reference to a human milk patent by a researcher from LaTrobe University. John May, the researcher, in response to my query regarding the patent, sent me a website page with the announcement of a John Hopkins patent on HMFG (human milk fat globule). I read the patent and was fascinated by several things. The patent called, "Antidiarrheic product and method of treating rotavirus-associated infection." (patent # 5505955). Invented by Jerry A. Peterson, Robert H. Yolken (a researcher often funded by Mead Johnson) and David S. Newburg. The patent was owned by Senomed, Inc., Cancer Research Fund of Contra Costa, and John Hopkins University School of Medicine with a statement that the US Government may have certain rights to the patent because it was funded in part through grants by the NIH (National Institute of Health). The patent states, "...the present invention provides an effective and potent agent for the treatment of gastroenteritis, and/or diarrhea, associated with a variety of conditions linked to rotavirus infection such as infantile gastroenteritis and some types of diarrhea prevalent in nursing homes and day care centers, and afflicting travelers and adults exposed to sick children and patients subjected to bone marrow transplant, persons with genetic immune deficiencies, those afflicted with acquired immune deficient diseases such as AIDS, and those who's immune systems are suppressed by drug administration and immunodeficient patients in general."
I was intrigued because a top medical school in the USA partially owned a patent that would use a human milk component to treat AIDS patients for diarrhea. Diarrhea is a common cause of mortality in infants around the world. Infants fed artificial formulas, particularly those infants living in poverty, are at high risk for developing diarrhea. How curious to create health care policy which tells hiv positive mothers not to breastfeed, "to discourage" them from breastfeeding. Yet the treatment for hiv positive mothers and babies if they got diarrhea would be a derivative (real or synthetic-gmo) of human milk.
Another troubling aspect of the patent was that they used donor milk from a HMBANA (Human Milk Banking Association of North America-a non-profit) milk bank. "Human milk was obtained from 30 healthy, lactating women donors to the Central Massachusetts Regional Milk Bank, Worcester, Massachusetts." Did the milk donors know that their milk donations went to researchers who "invented" these patents? Did they believe that their milk went to sick or premature infants? What were they told? I suspect nothing. In contacting HMBANA by email, I was told that this particular milk bank had recently closed down and that the paperwork I requested could not be found. At this particular time, I happened to be corresponding with a documentary film maker (doing films on alternative theories of hiv/aids) who had an interview with David S. Newburg (one of the inventors to this patent and well-known human milk researcher). One of her questions to him was in regard to these patents. According to her, he denied they existed. I have felt over the years since that time, that the common thread to the patenting of human milk components is denial. to be continued...