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WHO accused of secrecy over experts’ pharma ties
CRITICISM of WHO for accepting pandemic planning advice from flu experts with ties to industry was a “witch-hunt” that could unravel the organisation, Australian virologist Dr Alan Hampson warned last week.
Dr Hampson (Hon MD), a WHO and Australian Government consultant who chairs the industry-funded Influenza Specialist Group, said it would be hard to find experts with no ties to industry because of the way research was funded.
“The [experts] are not representing drug companies on those committees – they are representing science and medicine... and promoting public health interests,” he said.
WHO was last week lambasted by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) over its pandemic planning, with an article and editorial questioning a lack of transparency over conflicts of interest.
Key advice was delivered by scientists who were being paid by vaccine and antiviral manufacturers, the article charged.
In addition, the membership of WHO’s emergency committee, chaired by Australia’s Professor John Mackenzie, remained a secret, permitting no scrutiny of potential conflicts of interest, it said.
A key question, the article said, was whether pharmaceutical companies that invested billions of dollars in developing the swine flu vaccine had “supporters” on the committee who might have pressured WHO to declare a pandemic. It appears that announcement triggered government contracts to purchase vaccine.
In an editorial, the editor-in-chief of the BMJ, Fiona Godlee, said WHO needed to act now to “restore its credibility”.
Dr Hampson said WHO might have been unwise but the actions of its expert advisers should not be portrayed as sinister. WHO was not well-resourced and if outside experts withdrew participation, future pandemic planning would be threatened, he said.
“It’s unfortunate that the one pandemic we’ve had after all the planning turned out to be a bit of a fizzer,” Dr Hampson said.
“Had it been bird flu with 30% or 40% mortality I don’t think that too many people would have been going through a witch-hunt of this type.”
BMJ 2010, online first
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