Fluoride Action Network

I smell a rat whenever experts endorse commercial products

Source: Daily Nation | OPINION
Posted on March 2nd, 2009
Location: Kenya

Remember Carl Marx? Let me get to him in a roundabout way. There’s this TV ad that trumpets the merits of Pampers, a brand of baby diapers that have replaced the rather messy nappies many of us were reared on.

What catches my attention, though is not the superior quality claimed by Pampers, but the assertion that the product is approved by the Kenya Paediatric Association.

I have not heard the Kenya Paediatric Association disavow the claim, so it may be true that the vendors of Pampers have permission to cite such an authoritative source endorsing their product.

I presume then that any other product that wants endorsement of any section of the medical fraternity can get the seal of approval for the right consideration – irrespective of the actual quality or benefit of the product.

What does Carl Marx have to do with baby poo, diapers and product endorsement? Well, we were not talking about Karl, who sold us socialism, but Carl, with a ‘C’, who sold us toothpaste.

In the 1970s or early 1980, the said Carl Marx was the local boss of Colgate, the toothpaste sellers. It was Colgate that in this region led the Fluoride revolution.

The Kenya Dental Association, with considerable support from Colgate and other toothpaste brands, became a very strong advocate of fluoride, willingly lending its name to endorse toothpaste that had the chemical that allegedly strengthened teeth.

Behind all the marketing smoke, the dentists and the toothpaste vendors neglected to mention the very basic fact that in Kenya the problem was not lack of fluoride, but too much fluoride.

My understanding of science has always been pretty rudimentary, but even then I was able to garner from the protests of a few dentists who disagreed with their own association, that the stained teeth we see in Central Province and other places, was not due to poor dental hygiene, but too much fluoride.

Fluoride, in the right dose, is good for the teeth, but as we learn from a early age, too much of anything can be poison. At extreme concentrations, fluoride is responsible not just for stained and weak teeth, chipped teeth, but even brittle and deformed bones, hence the high number of bowlegs and stooped backs.

MARKETING, HOWEVER, CAN TRIumph over common sense, and so to date virtually all toothpaste available is impregnated with fluoride, when the priority in certain parts of the country should be on reducing the amount of the compound found naturally in the water.

And here is the moral and ethical issue: Should a professional association of medics get in the business of product endorsement unless that approval is strictly based only on the verified health or medical benefits?

If it is just a matter of how a medical association can boost its bank balance, then we will sooner or later come to the bizarre situation where the association of chest physicians, for instance, lends its seal of approval to a particular brand of cigarettes. The precedent has been established, and the Hypocritic oath thrown out of the window.

Before he became our Attorney-General, Mr Amos Wako had gained fame as human rights lawyer. It took a while for it to sink in that his fame was not earned by going to our courts to represent political prisoners or visiting police stations to seek release of dissidents being tortured by the Special Branch.

He was more comfortable helping write the African Human Rights Charter or visiting far-off places as a UN Special Rapporteur to conduct investigations into human rights abuses.

Thus the irony of ironies that another US Special Rapporteur is finding Mr Wako, along with the Commissioner of Police Hussein Ali, complicit in a terrifying spate of murders by official Kenya Police hit squads.

According to the UN investigator Philip Alston, extra-judicial executions are not just the work of some rogue elements, but have became a doctrine of the Kenya police.

It is only in extremely backward and despotic states that police break the law under the guise of enforcing it. Severe action must be taken against all involved. But us we rightfully cry for blood, let us not forget the blood of those killed by Mungiki and other criminal gangs.

I witnessed a most interesting protest in Eastleigh the other day where residents were demanding the return of a policeman nicknamed “Tyson”, who had a reputation for dispatching criminal with extreme prejudice. The criminal gangs that thrive on extortion and murder have made a big comeback in the area since Tyson was transferred, so I gathered.