Beijing (AsiaNews) – Almost 53 thousand babies are ill after having being feed on melamine contaminated milk. The Chinese Health Ministry confirmed the data today clarifying that the vast majority are “almost better”, but that 12,892 of them are still in hospital for further treatment. At least 104 infants have grave renal failure. Four babies have died. Melamine is a chemical additive used in plastics and glue. For years Chinese dairy companies have added it to powdered milk products to make them appear higher in protein. Exposure to melamine over a long period of time produces urinary infections and kidney stones.
This la test food security scandal is provoking widespread criticism of the government, which appears almost incapable of guaranteeing the health of its citizens. Yesterday state Television filmed Premier Wen Jiabao visiting hospitals in the capital. Shown embracing the small children and comforting their desperate parents he said: “As the head of the government, I feel extremely guilty ... I sincerely apologise to all of you….., what we are doing now is to ensure that nothing like this will ever happen again, and we are not only talking about milk. We will never let the same situation repeat with any kind of food product”.
The World Health Organisation has stated that Beijing did not notify them about the melamine contamination of its dairy products until September 11 - well after babies began developing kidney stones from drinking adulterated milk and warnings had already been launched by foreign partners of the Chinese dairy groups.
The WHO's director for the western Pacific region, Shigeru Omi notes: “Evidently there was also a problem with internal communication, because it seems that some people already knew about this problem for some time but did not share that information”.
The tainted milk scandal has led to charges against 22 Chinese dairy companies, but it is fast becoming an international problem, given that their products are export across the globe, particularly to Asia and Africa.
In Hong Kong, a three-year-old girl died after she was diagnosed with a kidney stone from drinking Chinese milk powder every day for 15 months. Meanwhile from Japan to Brunei and Burundi imports of Chinese powdered milk products have been banned. Singapore suspended the import and sale of all milk and milk products from the mainland after local tests found samples containing melamine, in ice cream, yoghurt, and confectionery such as chocolates, biscuits and sweets as well as any other products containing milk from China as an ingredient.