WHO scaremongering for Big Pharma

Developing countries fear UN body is only interested in padding pharmaceutical pocketbooks

James Corbett
Corbett Report

August 23, 2007

Bird flu scaremongering
The World Health Organization released its annual world health report today, touting its revised "International Health Regulations (2005)" policy which seeks to regulate "how countries should assess and report public health emergencies of potential international concern" to the WHO. The report, entitled "A safer future: global public health security in the 21st century," seeks to maximize the impression of the UN body's dispassionate interest in the public good and minimize the politics of strongarming governments into sharing publich health information. This information includes giving the WHO virus samples from H5N1 bird flu outbreaks which critics fear will be given to pharmaceutical companies to develop costly brand name vaccines that those most afflicted by the disease—the farming poor of the developing world—can ill afford.

As an article from BBC News makes clear, the report comes whilst the WHO is attempting to pressure Indonesia into providing H5N1 samples from its recent bird flu outbreak. According to the BBC report, "Jakarta has refused to share its samples with the WHO amid fears that pharmaceutical companies will use them to make vaccines that are too expensive for Indonesia." The issue is not a trivial one; the WHO went out of its way yesterday to reaffirm that Tamiflu is the only antiviral strongly recommended for treatment of H5N1 infected patients by the WHO. Tamiflu is a brand name drug which is commonly thought to belong to Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche, but the intellectual property rights for the drug actually go back to an American company, Gilead Sciences Inc., whose former chairman just happens to be Donald Rumsfeld, the ex-Secretary of Defense in the Bush administration. Jakarta, meanwhile, has just announced plans to jointly develop its own bird flu vaccine with the assistance of the Japanese government.

Indonesia's concerns over the WHO's intentions are certainly not misplaced. Aside from the WHO's fronting for Rumsfeld's Tamiflu, their negligence in a recent African drug study led to women being given an experimental anti-Aids gel which actually made them more vulnerable to Aids. What's more, the WHO report's scaremongering over the H5N1 bird flu is put into perspective by a report in the Journal of Virology just two days ago that found the current H5N1 strain is still numerous mutations away from anything resembling an epidemic threat. The WHO fails to mention this study in its report.