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WHO swine flu experts 'linked' with drug companies

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  1. John Doe
    WHO swine flu experts 'linked' with drug companies

    Key scientists behind World Health Organization advice on stockpiling of pandemic flu drugs had financial ties with companies which stood to profit, an investigation has found.

    The British Medical Journal says the scientists had openly declared these interests in other publications yet WHO made no mention of the links.

    It comes as a report from the Council of Europe criticised the lack of transparency around the handling of the swine flu pandemic.

    A spokesman for WHO said the drug industry did not influence its decisions on swine flu.

    Guidelines recommending governments stockpile antiviral drugs were issued by WHO in 2004.

    The advice prompted many countries around the world into buying up large stocks of Tamiflu, made by Roche, and Relenza manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline.

    A year after the swine flu pandemic was declared, stocks are left unused in warehouses and governments are attempting to unpick contracts.

    Conflict of interest

    The BMJ, in a joint investigation with The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, found that three scientists involved in putting together the 2004 guidance had previously been paid by Roche or GSK for lecturing and consultancy work as well as being involved in research for the companies.

    Although the scientists involved had freely declared the links in other places and said WHO asked for conflicts of interest forms prior to expert meetings, the ties were not publically declared by WHO.

    It is not clear whether these conflicts were notified privately by WHO to governments around the world, the BMJ said, and a request to see conflict of interest declarations was turned down.

    In addition, membership of the "emergency committee" which advised WHO's director general Margaret Chan on declaring an influenza pandemic has been kept secret.

    It means the names of the 16 committee members are known only to people within WHO, and as such their possible conflicts of interest with drug companies are unknown.

    On its website, WHO says: "Potential conflicts of interest are inherent in any relationship between a normative and health development agency, like WHO, and a profit-driven industry.

    "Similar considerations apply when experts advising the Organization have professional links with pharmaceutical companies.

    "Numerous safeguards are in place to manage possible conflicts of interest or their perception."


    Analysis

    Be open. Be transparent. That seems to be the key learning point for the WHO from this joint investigation.

    It is common practice for academic experts to work closely with the pharmaceutical industry, such as getting funding for drug trials, or to be paid for attending meetings.

    On all clinical papers authors must publicly declare any competing interests.

    So it is surely advisable that the WHO follows the same policy with its advisors.

    And there is surely no logic in refusing to name the members of the emergency committee which advised the WHO about the pandemic.

    To fail to do so presents an own goal to critics and conspiracy theorists.


    11:14 GMT, Friday, 4 June 2010 12:14 UK
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/10235558.stm

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  1. John Doe
    Council of Europe slams WHO handling of swine flu

    PARIS

    A report released by the Council of Europe on Friday accuses the World Health Organization and European governments of vastly exaggerating the public health risks of swine flu and making secretive decisions that benefited pharmaceutical companies.

    WHO, the U.N. health agency, has said those who claim swine flu was a fake pandemic created for the benefit of drug companies are irresponsible.

    A report by the health committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, a 47-member human rights watchdog, says the public health guidelines by WHO, EU agencies and national governments led to a "waste of large sums of public money and unjustified scares and fears about the health risks faced by the European public."

    The report was made public Friday. Legislators from all 47 members of the Council of Europe will debate the report June 24. The Council of Europe is not a European Union body and has no power over WHO.

    The committee said decisions about the outbreak were poorly explained and not transparent enough. It warned that public trust in WHO recommendations is "plummeting," which could be dangerous in case of a more severe pandemic in the future. The committee also suggested that drug makers contribute to a public fund to support independent research.

    Since bird flu broke out several years ago, governments worldwide have bought stockpiles of vaccines and antivirals. The emergence of swine flu sparked some countries to buy even more drugs. Many of the drugs and vaccines have gone unused, and the outbreak turned out to be much less deadly than some experts had feared.

    Because influenza is so unpredictable, authorities often must prepare for the worst. Some had feared swine flu could be as deadly as the 1918 pandemic, which killed up to 50 million people worldwide.

    The WHO website says that, as of Sunday, 18,138 deaths were attributable to swine flu, which has affected more than 214 countries and overseas territories or communities.

    WHO has said the outbreak last year had all the scientific characteristics of a pandemic, and insisted the organization was never improperly influenced by the pharmaceutical industry.


    The Associated Press
    June 4, 2010, 12:13PM ET
    http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9G4ICAG0.htm
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