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WHO policies ‘influenced’ by big business

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The World Health Organization (WHO) is seen by many as a trusted and independent voice—but many of its public health edicts are influenced by commercial interests.

Recent pronouncements about baby milk formula, processed foods, alcohol and pharmaceuticals have been shaped by lobbyists for the big industrial conglomerates, say researchers from the University of California at Davis.

Lobbying of the organisation stepped up just before the Covid-19 pandemic, and the organisation has been targeted by industry—including Big Pharma—because most people around the world see it as an independent voice.

Lobbying “plants doubt about the scientific and professional integrity (of WHO) just when we need it the most,” said Katheryn Russ, one of the researchers.

A Freedom of Information request uncovered a ‘hunt in packs’ mentality, with different industries co-ordinating their attempts to influence WHO policy.  The strategy has included an attack on WHO health proposals that might have affected the profits of an industry, including the inappropriate use of infant formula, advice on breastfeeding, and reducing the amount of sugar in diets.

The US government has a part to play, the researchers found.  When President Biden was a senator during the Clinton administration, he engineered a deal to restore funding of the United Nations and the WHO, provided the organisations were open to ‘reform’—a buzzword for allowing more industry influence over global health policy.

Global Health Governance, Spring 2022

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