June 1st 2010, 10:23
It's reassuring to think that there are big organizations out there so wedded to our best interests that they are beyond reproach, impossible to buy or sell. The premiere organization with this kind of impeccable reputation the world over is the World Health Organization, one of original agencies set up by the newly formed United Nations. Its objectives were lofty; as described in its founding constitution, it was intended to "combat disease, especially key infectious diseases, and to promote the general health of the people of the world".
The WHO, as it's commonly known, was set up three years after the end of World War II, and its headquarters-as if to underscore its even-handed mandate-were in formerly neutral Switzerland.
At the time of its inception, polio raged around the world so, in short order, the WHO's main line of focus became infectious disease. In 1980 the WHO triumphantly declared that smallpox had been wiped off the face of the earth and set, as its next target, the eradication of polio.
So, it came as a shock to all of us in these offices to find out just how cozy a relationship there had been between senior members of the WHO and the pharmaceutical industry in the swine-flu affair of last year.
As you may recall, it was the WHO that first raised the alarm over swine flu, predicting a phase-6, or runaway, pandemic that was expected to claim the lives of millions of people just in the US, the UK and Europe alone. This, of course, persuaded countries in Europe and in North America to splash out millions for supplies of Tamiflu and flu vaccines.
Yet, we all now realize that the pandemic never arrived, leaving many countries, including the UK, with huge unused stocks of antivirals and vaccines that were not needed-and lots of egg on its face.
In this month's special editorial (WDDTY vol 21 no 3), we're told that senior representatives of the drug companies making the drugs in question funded a group of scientists claiming to be an independent working party on influenza, headed by someone who is among the WHO's most influential scientists on vaccines. Furthermore, a batch of senior execs met with the WHO's Director-General to press her into revealing when she was going to announce a phase-6 pandemic. These disquieting relations led to worldwide fear, damage by unnecessary (and dangerous) drugs and, of course, record profits for Big Pharma.
That the line between regulation and commerce is becoming ever thinner is also apparent in the cancer industry. As our cover story reveals, an enormous body of evidence shows that cancer may be caused by bugs after all-specifically, by an imbalance in our usual bacterial flora caused by environmental insults. Yet, every scientist who has ever touched this proposition has been vilified or even imprisoned by the regulatory agencies or big cancer organizations-again largely advised or funded by the pharmaceuticals.
Big Pharma has become rather like the Matrix-invisible, all-powerful, almost impossible to control. One way to make progress in cancer and to stop phony wars like swine flu is to make a clean sweep of all those so-called watchdog agencies that are supposed to be safeguarding the public interest.