Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Chemists strike hit infants with lactose intolerance

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, April 5: The State is faced with shortage of infant food even as there appears to be no end in sight to chemists' strike, which entered the fifth day on Tuesday.
Babies below eight months and those with intolerance to lactogen or milk protein are the most affected as the milk formulae they need are available only in medical stores. However, the shortage in baby foods (for children above eight months) is met by super markets which also sell such products.
According to an estimate about 10 lakh babies in the State are hit by the chemists' strike and one to three lakh show symptoms of lactogen intolerance. Parents cannot change the baby milk formula overnight as it will lead to certain physiological complications in the child. Babies habituated to tinned milk formulae may find it difficult to digest alternative formulae or buffalo milk. The strike has complicated the parents' problems as they find it hard to get the same type or brand of baby food for their little ones.
Says Dr NCK Reddy, superintendent of Nilofer Children's Hospital, "sudden change in a baby's food habits may cause disturbances in its digestive system. The flora in the baby's intestines change with the shift in the brand of milk product. Parents should consult doctor if they find their babies uncomfortable. The problem is more felt in babies with lactogen intolerance". He suggests that as an alternative, buffaloes or sachet milk may be diluted as an alternative feed till the strike is called off.
The chemists went on strike saying that their agitation against the new VAT system was for just two days. Their sudden decision to convert the agitation into indefinite strike has taken many parents by surprise. The timing of the strike also affected the families with infants.
"We purchase milk formula for our baby in the first week of month along with other items. Had the chemists informed before hand that they would go on an indefinite strike, we would have purchased the milk formula well in advance. Just one day's feed is left with us", observes software professional R Lata Kumari.
Parents cannot simply experiment with the baby food by suddenly changing the milk formula. Dr Sreedhar Reddy of Vasavi Hospitals told this correspondent that babies might refuse new products as they easily notice a change in its taste. "Mother's milk is the best source of nutrition for the child. But if the babies are fed on infant formula, parents should ensure that they get the right product", he points.
According to medical experts, one to three per cent of babies in the State show intolerance or allergy to milk. Some babies are allergic to cow or buffalo milk and they need special milk formula without lactogen. About 10 per cent of the infants are allergic to milk protein.
Parents were seen standing in long queues at about half a dozen places where medical shops functioned, though partially, with the help of the police. Many of them ran out of stocks.
All-India Drug Control Officers' Confederation secretary-general R Udaybhaskar says it has come to their notice that shortage or non-availability of vital drugs besides infant milk formula has affected thousands of babies in the State. "We had to use force in Vijayawada, East and West Godavari to open medical shops. The Essential Services Maintenance Act provides us with immense powers including breaking open of medical shops to sell medicines", he said.
Though infant milk formulae do not come under the Drug Act, they are mostly sold in medical shops.