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Exposing WHO Influenza Advisers: They're Paid By The Pharmaceutical Industry

Several of the WHO's influenza advisers are paid by the pharmaceutical industry. Conflicts of interest have encouraged the industry to influence the decision that the H1N1 swine flu is a pandemic - and that the vaccine is necessary to defeat the disease.

On June 11, 2009, WHO Director General Margaret Chan stated that the swine influenza was a pandemic. It meant a huge economic benefit for the pharmaceutical industry. Many member countries - including Denmark - have contracts with major pharmaceutical companies and are therefore obligated to purchase vaccines in the event of a pandemic.

Investment bank JP Morgan estimates that the pharmaceutical industry may well receive vaccine orders up to 10 billion this year. Much of the turnover is due to the WHO's decision.

Many of the apparently impartial researchers the WHO uses are paid by the companies that produce vaccines.

The double roles are problematic, believes Professor Tom Jefferson, who is epidemiologist at the Cochrane Center in Rome:

"It is worrying that many members of WHO committees, signing himself with other titles, although they actually represent the pharmaceutical industry," he said.

One of the experts in the WHO H1N1-specific advisory group, Dr. Albert Ostenhaus, has been a significant figure on the Dutch government's agenda. The Government has convened a crisis meeting because of an article in Science where it has emerged that Albert Ostenhaus has economic interests in several pharmaceutical companies.

Meanwhile, Dr. Albert Ostenhaus in the Netherlands is known as' Dr Flu' because he promotes as the solution to epidemics.

Dr. Frederick Hayden is an outside expert in WHO's SAGE (strategize Advisory Group of Experts), which advises WHO on vaccines. He appears in the official papers as flu-research coordinator from the anonymous organization "The Welcome Trust in London."

But in a Google search shows that Dr. Hayden has many other employers. He is in particular a 'paid adviser' for pharmaceutical companies Roche, RW Johnson, SmithKline Beecham and Glaxo Wellcome.

Dr. Arnold Monto, who also appears as an invited expert on SAGE's members list of paid consultants in association with MedImmune (which produces the intranasal flu vaccine), Glaxo Wellcome and ViroPharma. SAGE 's list says he is only listed as the head of a department at the University of Michigan.

"There is a huge pharmaceutical lobby in the WHO, and it has been this way for so long. It is hard to see through what is the industry's interest and what is factual information," says specialist in community medicine, and former employee at the university Mauri Johansson.

The minutes from the SAGE meeting, held on July 7th stipulated that: "It will probably be necessary to give two doses of vaccine to ensure protection," although several researchers have pointed out that a single vaccine should be enough. The minutes also recommended that all health professionals and all pregnant women be vaccinated. Furthermore, there is a need for "a better understanding of the global vaccine demand 'and members' are invited to consider the use of vaccine as part of their pandemic preparedness."

Tom Jefferson of Cochrane encountered mysterious recommendations from the WHO:

"The WHO's latest recommendations on the control of pandemic influenza has stitches and frequent washing of hands mentioned twice. Vaccines and antivirals are however mentioned 24 and 18 times. "Why would an international public health agency focus on expensive interventions such as vaccines and medication when it is not proven that they work?" he said and stresses that washing is the best sanitizing method known.

Wolf Dieter Ludwig, head of drug commission of the German Medical Association is no doubt about what has happened:

"The authorities have succumb to a campaign by pharmaceutical companies, which seeks to monetize a non-existent threat," he told Der Spiegel.

According to Tom Jefferson, the result should be that the WHO committee split:

"The counselors must be separated from the WHO-makers and those who evaluate the WHO recommendations. And we must ensure that nobody can get away with non-publication of their conflicts of interest, "he says.

Something to contribute

WHO spokesman, Gregory Hartl, believes that it is quite natural that the pharmaceutical industry participate in WHO meetings.

"Everybody has something to contribute in this process - industry, NGOs and professional players - so we can gather all information. They can not vote, they have no influence on the outcome, and they can only speak when they are asked. When we make vaccine recommendations, we need knowledge about what is required to produce a vaccine. It is the only manufacturer who has the knowledge. "

Frederick Hayden and Alfred Monto attended the meeting on July 7th by experts from a university, but they were both paid by the pharmaceutical industry. Information about their financial ties are just not publicly available in the WHO auspices. Why not?

"All staff must sign the declaration of conflicts of interest, so we are clear about their background. But again, Frederick Hayden is the best influenza viral specialist in the world, so if you want to know how an influenza behaves, you ask Fred Hayden. That is why there are differences between observers and participants. "

But why not publish the financial information to the public?

"I'm not sure why we did not publish it ... I can not answer you on '.

When scientists from the WHO warn millions of people on a deadly pandemic and recommended vaccine, and then if it is exposed that he has financial interests, will it have some impact in the World Health Organization?

"No ...the WHO has a system that guarantees independence. We are aware that we do not let anything or anyone influence us. "

Will the WHO continue to conceal the medical experts' financial interests?

'I will not speak on that... it is possible that we will look at a code of disclosure for financial information, but I can not promise anything. "

* A full list of h1n1 vaccine ingredients, alerts and warnings.

Reference Sources
November 19, 2009


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