I have been seeing offensive headlines about Salma Hayek for a few days. “Salma Hayek Feeds the World!” It seems every time a celebrity makes a comment about breastfeeding – usually about losing weight – it generates more press than an embassy bombing. When I realized that this story was about Hayek putting a starving African baby to her breast, it got my attention.
The video is an ABC News Nightline segment on Hayek’s trip to Sierra Leone to promote a UNICEF/Proctor & Gamble joint project concerning tetanus vaccination in Africa. Through much of the story, I have some questions and reservations.
Proctor & Gamble will “contribute” one tetanus vaccination (which, according to this report, costs seven cents) for each package of specially marked Pampers disposable diapers purchased. Hmm, P & G hard up for cash? Instead of actually contributing, Proctor & Gamble will give a cut of its profits – a really tiny cut – if others buy its high priced brand of one of the primary sources of non-recyclable trash.
I wonder also which pharmaceutical company makes this vaccine and whether there are toxic contents. I wonder what informed consent the women getting this vaccine receive – particularly given the disturbing bit of this clip in which Hayek herself is giving a women an injection (um … at least “do not try this at home”?). There is mention also that there is medicine that could save these dying children but it is too expensive. Hey, P & G, how about paying for the medicine for children who are already sick since vaccinating the mothers won’t save these babies?
For the moment let me put aside concerns about how this project might increase disposable diaper use. I used some cloth but I admit I used mostly disposable diapers on my kids. Put aside my concerns about other effects of the vaccination. Tetanus is a very easy disease to prevent when you have clean running water and disinfectant but, be forewarned, in this video clip you will see an infant die. Sierra Leone is a country in which many people do not have clean running water. There is discussion of some regional practices which contribute to the transmission of tetanus (packing the umbilical cord with animal dung) that UNICEF is educating people against.
The last third of this video discusses the need for greater breastfeeding education among the people of Sierra Leone. According to this story, UNICEF is encouraging women to breastfeed their babies for two years (yay!) and the babies’ fathers are discouraging breastfeeding because they don’t have sex with breastfeeding women.
It is this discussion that leads to a fascinating part of this segment. Hayek picks up a crying infant (presumably with consent of its mother) and puts him to her breast. Hayek then talks about sharing her year old daughter’s milk with this tiny infant who needs it. The footage of this infant nursing with gusto at Hayek’s breast is awe inspiring.
There is a lot wrong with this story. How is vaccinating mothers going to “eradicate” a disease babies are getting from dung and mud? What lack of moral code leads Procter & Gamble to “promote the brand” before it gives seven frigging cents? Where is the medicine for the children who actually have tetanus? But Hayek picking up a starving baby and feeding it at her full breast is absolutely right. I would do it in a heartbeat. I hope every mother would.