World Health Organization scientists are suspected of accepting secret bribes from vaccine manufacturers to influence the U.N. organization's H1N1 pandemic declaration, according to Danish and Swedish newspapers.
Meanwhile, pharmaceutical profits from swine-flu related drugs have soared – with earnings between $10 billion and $15 billion in 2009, investment bank JP Morgan estimates.
As WND reported, the WHO Director General Margaret Chan initially raised the influenza pandemic alert to its second highest level in May – but evidence reveals the agency may have made it easier to classify the flu outbreak as a pandemic by changing its definition to omit "enormous numbers of deaths and illness" just prior to making its declaration.
The world was gripped with fears of swine flu as the alert increased from Phase 5 to Phase 6, the highest level. Immediately, pharmaceutical companies began working to develop vaccines, and countries tailored their responses to address the situation.
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Danish newspaper Information reported that when Chan raised the level of pandemic alert on June 11, the declaration meant substantial economic benefits for the pharmaceutical industry – especially since many countries have contracts with major drug companies and are required to purchase vaccines in the event of a pandemic. Swedish newspaper SvD echoed Information's report.
"Many of the apparently impartial researchers the WHO uses, however, are paid by the companies that produce vaccines," states a translated version of the Information article, "Strong lobbying behind WHO resolution on mass vaccination."
One expert in a WHO H1N1 advisory group, Dr. Albert Osterhaus, has been subject to a Dutch government investigation. The government convened a crisis meeting after an article in Science magazine indicated that Osterhaus has financial interests in several pharmaceutical companies.
Osterhaus, known as "Dr. Flu," is the head of the department of virology at the Erasmus MC, University of Rotterdam. According to aEuropean Commission Research website, Osterhaus is co-founder of two biotech companies and promotes vaccines as solutions for pandemics.
Another expert who advises WHO on vaccines, Dr. Frederick Hayden, is described as a flu-research coordinator from the Wellcome Trust in London.
However, according to the report, Hayden also serves as a "paid adviser" for pharmaceutical companies Roche, RW Johnson, SmithKline Beecham and Glaxo Wellcome.
WHO expert Dr. Arnold Monto is also purportedly a paid consultant for MedImmune (a company that produces nasal flu vaccine), Glaxo Wellcome and ViroPharma. However, WHO's Strategize Advisory Group of Experts, or SAGE, never divulged those ties, according to the report.
The newspaper also states that numerous pharmaceutical companies maintain an active presence during WHO advisory group meetings, with representatives listed as "observers."
Professor Tom Jefferson, epidemiologist at the Cochrane Center in Rome, told Information he believes the researchers' dual roles are problematic, and he noted the WHO's emphasis on drugs rather than proper hygiene habits.
"The WHO's latest recommendation on the control of pandemic influenza has frequent washing of hands mentioned twice," he said. "Vaccines and antivirals are, however, mentioned 24 and 18 times. Why would an international public health agency focus on much more expensive interventions, such as vaccines and medication, when it is not proven that they work?"
Jefferson said washing ones hands is the only proven method of flu prevention.
Wolf Dieter Ludwig, head of drug commission of the German Medical Association, told Der Spiegel he has no doubt pharmaceutical companies have been seeking to capitalize off what he called a "non-existent threat."
WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl told Information it's natural to allow representatives of the pharmaceutical industry to participate in WHO meetings.
"Everybody has something to contribute in this process – industry, NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and professional players – so we can gather all information," he said. "They cannot vote. They have no influence on the outcome, and they can only speak when they are asked. We make vaccine recommendations, so we need knowledge about what is required to produce a vaccine. Only the manufacturers have that knowledge."
According to the report, WHO does not publicize information about advisers' financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry.
"All staff must sign the declaration of conflicts of interest, so we are clear about their background," Hartl said. "But again, Frederick Hayden is the best influenza virologist in the world, so if you want to know how influenza behaves, you ask Fred Hayden."
Asked why WHO doesn't publish the advisers' financial ties to drug companies, he replied, "I'm not sure why we didn't publish it. I can't answer that. … It is possible that we will look at a code of disclosure of financial information, but I cannot promise anything."
He continued, "WHO has a system that guarantees independence. … We do not let anything or anyone influence us."
Louise Volle, journalist at the Danish daily and co-author of the report, told Russia Today, "The biggest problem seems to be that we don't know enough. There's not enough transparency on financial disclosure on the expert groups used by WHO. ... Scientists who appear to be independent are also hired consultants working for the same pharmaceutical companies who produce the vaccines. This is clearly an issue that needs to be taken care of."
Volle said she does not expect that the WHO will publish the financial disclosures on its experts unless public pressure is put on the organization.
Asked whether any solid investigations are being conducted to explore the allegations, she replied, "Not currently. I don't think so. ... [I]t has to be public what is going on in these meetings and what is going on in these expert groups. Who are the people working for WHO? And who else are they working for?"
According to Voice of America, Keiji Fakuda, WHO director general on pandemic influenza, refuted claims that WHO is in collusion with the pharmaceutical industry. He also noted that 150 million doses of H1N1 vaccine have been distributed in 40 countries.
Meanwhile, WHO reports the global H1N1 death toll at 8,768 as of Dec. 4.
According to estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2,500 and 6,100 Americans died from swine flu between April and Oct. 17 this year.
However, the CDC also reports that during a typical U.S. winter, normal seasonal flu strains result in an average of 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 American deaths – roughly 10 times the current swine-flu death rate.
Leading epiemiologists are now predicting the pandemic may rank as the mildest on record.
Note: Concerned individuals may contact the World Health Organization.
Ahmad Fawzi, director of the news and media division; Kiyo Akasaka, undersecretary-general for public information; and Ban Ki-mooncan be contacted via e-mail.
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