Sunday, June 06, 2010

More corruption at UN?

Turns out what most interested observers have been arguing for a long time has been proven correct. The WHO's panic mongering in relation to the swine flu pandemic was just that, panic mongering. The primary beneficiaries were pharmaceutical companies whose products were stockpiled by many countries that responded to WHO recommendations. Finally, in-depth reports accuse WHO of exaggerating the real danger. The reports also note that on the WHO committee writing the report served several scientists who arguably had a conflict of interest (related to their relationships with pharmaceutical companies). The Washington Post wonders whether or not the WHO advert for flu medicines (aka its flu guidance) informed its member countries of these commercial conflicts of interest.

1 comment:

  1. I think it is important to separate three things re. this issue.

    First, the issue if the WHO strategy re. the H1N1 pandemic was a wise one. That question is not settled by restrospective facts about the way things turned out, or even the possible presence of undue ties to industry, since the strategy was a response to an uncertain prospect re. how the pandemic might eventually develop. It boils down to whether, in light of the facts known at the time, the prescribed precautionary measures were compatible with an ethically sound response to these sort of large scale, uncertain risk scenarios. It's always interesting to play with ones imagination regarding ones spontaneous reactions to cases like these. Suppose what the WP would have written had the H1N1 pandemic been much more serious than it turned out to be, while the WHO had played down the risk assessment message in its recommendations...

    The second issue is the question of possible corruption within the relevant section of the WHO. However, this issue is entirely independent of the above. Answering that question needs, first, clear valid norms about what sort of influencing, socialising, etcetera with experts tied to industry is undue and, second, hard evidence to the effect that such norms have been overstepped. As far as I can judge, the article mentions no such evidence beside the fact that the WHO consulted some experts with industry ties. Such consultation is, in itself, not a problem. After all, if WHO is to even ponder the use of the pharma industry's services (which it has to do even if it decides against it in the end) it would need to hold such consultations. So, in order to show undue influence or corruption, pointing to such consultations is far from sufficient.

    The third issue is the one commented on by Fiona Godlee; whether WHO's reputation is at stake. It indeed is - the publicly aired suspicions from impressive sources are sufficient for that. Whether or not any good arguments to substantiate the allegations have been forwarded is completely irrelevant. WHO needs to launch the investigations it has announced in response to wash its laundry publicly regardless of if it is dirty or not. It's simply the Caesar's wife principle. For an organisation like WHO, just as any country's public health organisation, needs to maintain a degree of public trust of unusual degrees. If it cannot, it will be unable to do its job well once it is needed for real.

    Should the investigation reveal hard evidence of corruption, this would be bad news for public health work all over the world, indeed!


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