Sunday, February 18, 2007
The World Health Organisation, the drugs company and the $10,000 funding offer
· Patients' group 'was asked to act as covert channel'
· UN body denies attempt to bend donation rules
Michael Day and Sarah BoseleyFriday February 16, 2007
The World Health Organisation is facing allegations that it attempted to secure a $10,000 (£5,100) donation from a drugs company by asking a patients' group to act as a covert channel for the funds, in the light of documents published today. The alleged arrangement would have broken the WHO's own rules on accepting money from the pharmaceutical industry.
Emails between Benedetto Saraceno, the WHO's director of mental health and substance abuse, and the European Parkinson's Disease Association appear to suggest that the WHO was willing to take $10,000 from Britain's biggest drug company, GlaxoSmithKline, to help pay for the preparation of a report on neurological disorders, for which GSK makes drugs.
However, Dr Saraceno made it clear that the money must pass through the coffers of the EPDA first because of the rules on WHO accepting drug industry funding.
"Unfortunately WHO cannot receive funds from the pharmaceutical industry," he wrote to Mary Baker of the EPDA in June 2006.
"Our legal office will reject the donation. WHO can only receive funds from government agencies, NGOs, foundations and scientific institutions or professional organisations. Therefore I suggest that this 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 to GSK."
He added: "This is in line with what we have done so far with other contributions to the report which are all coming from other professional organisations."
The email exchange, detailed in today's British Medical Journal, is likely to reignite the debate over the extent of the reliance on pharmaceutical funding by health organisations. A part of the United Nations, the WHO has long suffered from underfunding and never has enough money for the wide range of services that it provides. The WHO produces guidelines on all kinds of health issues across the globe.
In this case, GSK appears to have been appalled at the lack of transparency on the part of the WHO and withdrew its offer.
In June 2006 Alastair Benbow, a vice president of the company, wrote to Ms Baker: "Unless I am misreading something here it sounds like they [the WHO] will accept funding from you but not from the industry. Worse than this, they will accept funding from you even if they know it originally came from us in order to bypass their own rules. This is hypocritical in the extreme. It makes a complete mockery of attempts at transparency, which should be welcome and which the WHO have called for."
Dr Saraceno strongly denies that he was suggesting breaking the rules. He claims that his email to Ms Baker was "clumsily worded" and that he had "never intended to solicit donations from the pharmaceutical industry through the patient organisation".
After Dr Saraceno was shown Dr Benbow's email, he sent a further one to her in which he attempted to explain his position, saying that he had never asked her organisation to raise funds from the pharmaceutical industry and stating that he would prefer to decline the $10,000 "in order to avoid a perception of conflict of interests for WHO".
A spokesman for the WHO said: "It's astonishing that the BMJ thinks there's a story here. Dr Saraceno sent a second email saying that he had not meant to ask for money. So I don't think there's anything to answer."
Ms Baker, however, had a different perspective on events. "There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Dr Saraceno knew the $10,000 was coming from GSK and that he was intending to disguise its origins by getting the EPDA to accept it first before passing it on."
About the Author :
Bob Fiddaman has been writing about the dangers of antidepressants since 2006. In 2011 he was presented with two human rights awards from the Citizens Commission on Human Rights.
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