WHO Pandemic Flu Advisers Paid by Roche, Glaxo, Investigations Find

The following two articles illustrate the degree of corruption involved in the promotion of vaccines. This particular instance was exposed. Many others continue. DC

WHO Pandemic Flu Advisers Received Payment From Roche, Glaxo, Report Finds

By Marthe Fourcade

Experts who received money from Roche Holding AG and GlaxoSmithKline Plc also served as consultants to the World Health Organization in drawing up plans for dealing with pandemic influenza, the British Medical Journal and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported.

The flu expert who recommended using and stockpiling antiviral drugs received payments from Roche, which makes the best-selling antiviral Tamiflu, for lecturing and consulting work when the guidance was produced and published in 2004, according to the report published today in the BMJ. He had also received payments from Glaxo, maker of the second best-selling flu drug Relenza, until 2002, the article said.

European governments spent billions of dollars buying pandemic vaccines and antiviral drugs that went largely unused because the flu remained mild. The European Medicines Agency yesterday said three companies distributed more than 179 million doses of pandemic vaccine in Western Europe, of which at least a fifth was used. The article, which also found that two scientists who prepared annexes to the WHO’s 2004 pandemic guidelines had financial links to Roche, criticizes the lack of transparency of the agency’s expert consultations.

“The investigation reveals a system struggling to manage the inherent conflict between the pharmaceutical industry, WHO, and the global public health system, which all draw on the same pool of scientific experts,”

the authors wrote.

‘Free of Undue Influence’

The recommendations on how to respond to a pandemic were drafted by 20 people and the WHO released them on the Web for six months to seek public comment before revising them and publishing them in 2004, Gregory Hartl, a WHO spokesman, said in a telephone interview.

“It’s very difficult for 2 of 20 to be a majority,” Hartl said.

“There is a range of expertise on any given committee. We are confident that the end product is free of undue influence.”

The report also questioned the WHO’s policy of not disclosing the names of members of its emergency committee, a group of public health officials and flu experts that advises Director-General Margaret Chan. This makes it impossible to assess potential conflicts of interest with drugmakers, the BMJ said.

The Geneva-based WHO says the secrecy is intended to shield panel members from outside pressures.

‘Protect the Neutrality’

“We have to protect the neutrality of this advice,” Hartl said.

“It’s easier to do that if their names aren’t known.”

The WHO says it made the best possible decisions to protect the public at a time when it had limited information about a lethal virus.

The BMJ report acknowledges there is a finite supply of experts to be found in the field, and many of them have worked for drugmakers.

“In disease areas like this, there is only a limited number of people who have got direct clinical investigational experience and virology experience, so it’s not surprising that we are going to be seeking advice from the same groups of people,”

David Reddy, who heads Roche’s influenza task force, said in a telephone interview today.

“It’s to everybody’s benefit that industry conduct its activities with the advice of experts.”

The WHO has processes in place for considering relationships with the pharmaceutical industry when it evaluates advice supplied by experts, he said. What’s more, the agency itself has initiated a review of the handling of the pandemic, so it’s too early to draw conclusions, according to Reddy.


Marthe Fourcade,  mfourcade@bloomberg.net

Source:  Bloomberg



Report: WHO overstated H1N1 threat

Al Jazeera and agencies

Links between WHO experts and drug firms that profited from H1N1 pandemic under scrutiny.

A joint report into the handling of the H1N1 outbreak has found that some scientists who advised governments to stockpile drugs, had previously been on the payroll of big drug companies.

The report, published in the British Medical Journal, found World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines on the use of medicine to treat the virus were prepared by experts who had received consulting fees from the top two manufacturers of the drugs – Roche and GlaxoSmithKline.

The WHO’s decision to name the flu a “pandemic” is also coming under scrutiny from European investigators, and stands accused of exaggerating the dangers of the H1N1 outbreak, which emerged in April last year.

Laboratory tests have confirmed more than 18,000 deaths from H1N1 infection, according to WHO figures, but the virus has turned out to be less deadly than feared.

Also, symptoms suffered by most people infected with the virus have been mild.

‘Exaggerated scare story’

A report by the Council of Europe, also released on Friday, accused the WHO of a lack of transparency over the pandemic announcement – saying it wasted huge sums of money and provoked “unjustified fears”.

Paul Flynn, the author of the report, told Al Jazeera that the WHO warnings were

“exaggeration on stilts”.

“The WHO changed the definition of the most serious pandemic for one that would include the possibility of a tremendous amount of deaths to one that wouldn’t include that severity … and this is extraordinary.

“[The] announcement caused the world press to go into hysteria and tell people that we’re going to see a plague like the 1918 one.

“There was never any scientific evidence to justify this exaggerated scare story.

“They frightened the world witless about this and caused this vast expense and disruption of health services,” he said.

‘Saving lives’

But Gregory Hartl, a WHO spokesman in Geneva, said the organisation does not believe any undue influence was exerted on its work.

“In April 2009, we knew very little about [this new virus] and our duty was a duty of care to save lives,”

he told Al Jazeera.

“So we were helping member states prepare for outcomes that were unknown at the time. We were lucky that afterwards the virus showed itself to be much milder than it was initially thought it could have been.

“Remember what would have happened had WHO and the world done nothing, and it turned out to be a virus on the scale of mortality of bird flu.”

The WHO initially urged rapid development of treatments and vaccines, fearing the virus had the potential to kill millions.

As a result wealthy countries spent billions on medicines which many believe are now unnecessary.

Across Europe, governments are now trying to resell their stockpiles of swine flu vaccine.

.”]Emergency committee

An emergency committee of the WHO has been waiting for signs of how the virus is developing in the southern hemisphere winter before making a full pronouncement on its state.

The committee, composed of 15 external advisers, believes it is critical for countries to maintain vigilance concerning the pandemic, including necessary public-health measures for disease control and surveillance, Margaret Chan, the WHO director-general, has said in a statement.

Chan said that pandemic flu activity was expected to continue, and the committee would meet again by mid-July to review the status of the outbreak once more data from the winter influenza season in the southern hemisphere was available.

The panel met on Tuesday, but Chan delayed any announcement until Thursday as the committee, whose members were spread around the world for the meeting by teleconference, put the final touches to the wording of their recommendation.

Chan’s decision, based on the committee’s recommendation, means that the outbreak, widely known as swine flu, remains at phase six on the WHO’s pandemic scale, which has been at the top level of six since June 2009.

‘Profound misjudment’

WHO experts say the virus remains a threat to some vulnerable people, notably pregnant women, young children and those with respiratory problems, and such groups would continue to need vaccinations.

Fiona Godlee, the editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal (BMJ), told Al Jazeera the findings were “not surprising” but that the public should be “shocked by this”.

“This was a major decision that affected governments around the world, vast sums of public money and private profit, and we need to really understand exactly the extent to which WHO’s advice was influenced by the pharmaceutical industry,” she said.

“The investigation by the BMJ suggests that there was substantial influence at a number of key stages in the declaration of the pandemic, the definition of the pandemic, the triggering of vaccine contracts around the world and advice to government to stockpile large numbers of expensive antiviral drugs.

“The extent of misjudgment was really very profound in this case.”

But WHO experts maintain that the HIN1 virus could spread easily among people if it were to mutate into a more dangerous or lethal form.

The virus is currently most active in parts of the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, and activity in Africa is low or sporadic.


Source: Al Jazeera



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