The World Health Organization (WHO) – supposedly an independent voice of global health - is accepting illicit payments from drug companies, a new report suggests. It has been using patients’ groups through which it channels the money, as direct payments from drug companies are contrary to its own guidelines.
The WHO was prepared to accept a $10,000 ‘donation’ from drug giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), provided the money was sent via a patients group for Parkinson’s sufferers.
E-mails between the WHO’s mental health department and the European Parkinson’s Disease Association (EPDA) in June last year suggest that the practice was fairly common. The WHO had asked for the money to help fund a report on neurological diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, and for which GSK produces treatments.
In one of the e-mails from the WHO to EPDA’s Mary Baker, it was suggested that the money “should be given to EPDA and eventually EPDA can send the funds to WHO, which will give an invoice (and acknowledge contribution) to EPDA, but not GSK. This is in line with what we have done with other contributions.”
But GSK was so outraged it would not be acknowledged as the donor that it withdrew the funding offer.
Its sensitivity to the issue also highlights the very close relationship that exists between drug companies and patients’ groups. One commentator, Dr Tim Reid, of Health Action International, says: “Patients’ groups are so close to the industry that they might as well be taking their money straight out of the drug company advertising budgets.”
Graham Dukes, a former WHO employee, commented: “We know that patient groups are heavily influenced by drug companies. In the case of attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), for example, we know that the industry effectively financed the whole campaign – and we’re not absolutely sure the condition actually exists.”
The WHO claims that the e-mails were misinterpreted, and the language used in them was merely ‘clumsy’.
(Source: British Medical Journal, 2007; 334: 338-40).E-news broadcast 22 February 2007 No.336