[Ip-health] Is the WHO at risk of giving in to undue private sector influence?

K.M. Gopakumar kumargopakm at gmail.com
Tue Apr 26 05:39:43 PDT 2016



Corporate capture is at the heart of the matter
TNM Staff <http://www.thenewsminute.com/author-articles/TNM-Staff>|
Tuesday, April 26, 2016 - 16:28

The independence and credibility of the World Health Organisation (WHO)
would be compromised if member states fail to put in place a robust
framework to protect the organisation from undue influence, some 34 civil
society groups have said this week.

Their call to remain alert and vigilant comes as countries meet in Geneva
to negotiate a Framework of Engagement with Non-State Actors (FENSA)
together with NGOs, businesses, philanthropic foundations and academic
institutions. “We… call on participants of the meeting to ensure that the
framework does not fall below existing safeguards that aim to prevent undue
influence from the private sector and to strengthen them,” said the group
which includes the All India Drug Action Network, Baby Food Action
networks, groups calling for corporate responsibility, and Third World
Network (TWN) – a news and advocacy network.

The News Minute has followed this issue closely. Read our earlier report

The bottom line is finance and related resources. Current WHO guidelines
regulate the organisation’s engagement with the private sector.
Significantly, they restrict the acceptance of financial resources from the
private sector to support salaries of WHO staff. The FENSA draft on the
table ignores this and allows the WHO’s Secretariat to accept financial
support from the private sector to pay staff salaries.

Likewise, existing guidelines protect the organisation from groups that are
primarily of a commercial or profit-making nature to enter into official
relations with the WHO. The FENSA now proposes to explicitly allow
international business associations and philanthropic foundations to enter
into official relations with the WHO thus enabling these groups to
participate in the organisation’s governing body meetings and other fora of

Member states are being asked to urgently address the concern of
sustainable financing of WHO. It is far too risky to use FENSA as a
fund-raising strategy. Currently more than 80 per cent of WHO’s budget is
financed through voluntary tied contributions. This is the most critical
cause of WHO’s vulnerability to undue influences. There is an urgent need
for Member States to increase their assessed contribution.

Private sector players are especially keen to seek a WHO endorsement in
areas of food and beverages with a view to greater market access. Saying
this is any other way or couching it in semantic jugglery would be
dishonest. Without adequate safeguards the WHO will not be able to fulfil
its constitutional mandate as the directing and coordinating authority on
global health, setting norms and standards and regulating harmful industry
practices. The reliance on financial support from the private sector is
shorthand for ‘corporate capture’ of the WHO, civil society groups say.

Conflict of interest is writ large on this discussion. As the first health
arm of the United Nations (UN) family, WHO is the world’s only
policy-setting organisation. Countries use WHO guidelines on a host of
issues ranging from drugs to food, road safety to beverages and fast foods.
Like many UN organisations the WHO has been strapped for cash with
countries (whose contributions account for salaries) cutting back on their

Even though various WHO documents, including the draft FENSA text, mention
concerns about conflict of interest (COI), WHO lacks a comprehensive policy
to manage both individual and institutional COI. Most importantly, the
draft FENSA, instead of filling this gap, contains a wrong
conceptualisation of conflicts of interest. Were conflicts of interest
conceptualized correctly, the entire FENSA text would look different.
Similarly, safeguards against risk of undue influence, especially
protection against conflict of interest, should be in place, even in the
case of humanitarian emergencies.

As the WHO readies for its annual assembly in less than a month from now,
this issue is expected to rile and regale equally. Watch this space.

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