By Princewill Ekwujuru

EVERY year, Carbonated Soft Drink, CSD, companies in Nigeria donate billions of naira to health organisations, medical and public health institutions. They do this to get favourable standing with stakeholders in the health industry and endorsement for their products, and to downplay the negative effects of sugar consumption on health.

As a result of this, CSD companies have come under severe criticism over what they call social responsibility donations which have had no significant impact on the health industry. This comes amidst call for tax on sugary beverages and health organisations to reject monetary donations from beverage companies. It is believed that rejection of such monetary donations will put them under pressure to reduce unhealthy sugar consumption.

It is a known fact that added sugar in any diet is linked to obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. However, beverage companies can throw up arguments against any legislation that might cut sugar consumption. On the other hand, health and medical organisations would naturally be expected to promote policies that reduce sugar consumption but the reverse is always the case.

Product consumption

It may not come as a surprise that a number of health organisations may retreat from their responsibility by withdrawing from public debate on policies that would reduce CSD consumption and opposing CSD legislation, or collaborating with beverage companies to produce joint educational materials to push for their product consumption.

Dr. Mohammed Alkali, National President of DAN, had said at a conference in Lagos that about five million Nigerians are living with diabetes as at the end of 2015, out of which 1.56 million were new cases diagnosed in 2015 alone. “That means Nigeria has lots of undiagnosed diabetes. Should more people be screened, new cases will still be discovered,” he stated.

The CSD market overtime has continued to grow in the midst of economic difficulties fueling health challenges, an indication that donations by these companies is giving them the needed sales volume expected. Between 2011 to 2015 two beverage giants based in Lagos and America with offices in Ikoyi and Ijora gave millions of dollars to health organisations while quietly fighting anti-obesity measures such as taxes on soft drinks, a report by US based research firm Euromonitor states.

Coca recently revealed it spent more than $120million about (N3.78trillion) in 2010 financing scientific studies, partnership with groups fighting obesity and lobbying, according to Euromonitor. SevenUp Bottling Company, Chi Limited, Vital products Limited, Suntory, a Japanese firm that bought over Ribena and Lucozade from GlaxoSmithKline did not indicate the amount spent to fight sugar related challenges or other health issues on their websites.

Ad spend: In another report, Coca cola said it spent $4.0billion on global advertising, and in 2014, spent $3.5 billion, which is five percent increment. The company sponsored national health organisations battling public health problems such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease, according to the research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

During the same period, in US, Euromonitor said Coca-cola and Pepsico, Pepsi owners, (marketed by 7up Bottling Compnay in Nigeria), lobbied against 29 public health bills in America which intended to reduce soda consumption or improve nutrition.

“These companies lobbied against public health intervention in 97 percent of cases, this calls into question a sincere commitment to improving the public’s health,” said the study’s authors, Daniel Aaron and Michael Siegel of Boston University. However, most of the recipients of the companies’ largesse were private organisations, while some were part of government establishments, such as the CDC. The donations have become larger in recent years, alongside mounting public health campaigns linking soft drinks to the country’s rising obesity levels – related to a growing prevalence of diabetes, obesity and lobbying, according to the report.

Although the campaign against sugar consumption in Nigeria is at its lowest ebb, what assurance could there be that CSD companies in Nigeria will not lobby against public health bill especially as it relates to child health if initiated in Nigeria? It’s a fact that youths  and children are the major primary target of the beverage companies.

Recently, it was learned that a beverage company headquartered along the Apapa–Oshodi Expressway was lobbying the National Agency for Food Drugs and Control, NAFDAC’s approval to endorse its drinks as good for consumption amidst its high sugar content. Though sugar is important to human existence, but excess consumption of it is dangerous to human health, medical experts say.

It is not surprising that lobbyists funded research could underplay the role of sugar in heart disease just like the tactics similar to those employed by the tobacco industry to downplay the health risks of smoking. “By accepting funding from these companies, health organisations are inadvertently participating in their marketing plans. It is important, therefore,for the government to place heavy duty on imported sugar to make it tighter for importation,” said Abraham Ibeabuchi, Director at Tyrus Communication, Lagos.

“How interesting it would have been if most organisations in Nigeria refuse tobacco money. Then, perhaps beverage companies could be treated likewise,” said Idiaghe Idoko, clergy, at All Saints Assembly, Ikorodu. “Just like in America, Nigeria can pass a sugary drink tax law,” he opined. Studies have shown that taxes can reduce consumption of bad-for-you products such as sweet drinks and tobacco, Idoko noted.

Sugary drink tax law

Statistics have shown that allocations to states and health organisations to fight NCDs, besides diabetes are not enough, hence the dependence on CSD companies for funding. According to the Nigeria Journal of Clinical practice, the federal government’s allocation to health rose to N279.2 billion in 2014 from N164.9 billion in 2010. The equivalent capital allocations were N54.5 billion, N57.1 billion and N63.4 billion for 2009, 2010 and 2011 respectively. Of these, N48.6 billion, N33.6 billion and N38.6 billion were released constituting 89.2 percent, 58.8 percent and 61.2 percent respectively for those years.

The total federal level capital budget allocation for health that was released was N38.8 billion out of the N63.4 billion budgeted (61.2 percent) for 2011. Of this, only N26.02 billion (67 percent) was utilized. The absorptive capacity for released funds is moderate.
In most states of the federation, the proportion of states’ and local government areas’ budgets allocated to health remains below 15 percent. It is as low as two percent in Ondo and as high as 15 percent in Bauchi State.

The per capita health expenditure of $10 is far below the $34 recommended by the Macro-economic Commission on Health as required for provision of basic package of essential health care services. So, this arrangement of funding by the government has made it impossible for health organisations to be able to resist this temptation from CSD companies.

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