WHO ADVISER CONCEALS A DONATION OF MILLIONS FROM A PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANY
By Louise Voller & Kristian Villesen for the Danish daily newspaper, “Information”
A Finnish member of the WHO board, an advisor on vaccines, has received 46 million crowns (6 million euros) for his research centre from the vaccine manufactures, GlaxoSmithKline. WHO promises transparency, but this conflict of interests is not available for the public to see at WHO’s homepage.
Another ‘WHO’ vaccine advisor is withholding information concerning financial support from the pharmaceutical industry.
Professor Juhani Eskola is the director of the Finnish research vaccine programme (THL) and a new member of the WHO group, ‘Strategic Advisory Group of Experts’ (SAGE), which gives advice to the WHO Director-General, Margaret Chan. ‘SAGE’ also recommend which vaccines – and how many – member countries should purchase for the pandemic.
According to documents acquired through the Danish ‘Freedom of Information Act,’ Professor Juhani Eskola’s Finnish institute, THL, received almost 6.3 million Euro from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for research on vaccines during 2009.
This amount of money qualifies GlaxoSmithKline as THL’s main source of income.
GlaxoSmithKline produces the H1N1-vaccine ‘Pandemrix,’ which the Finnish government following recommendations from THL and WHO purchased for a national pandemic reserve stockpile.
These facts bring Professor Juhani Eskola in line with several other ‘WHO ’experts who play a double role by having financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry – a double role which notably is not published by WHO.
During November, the Danish daily, ‘Information’ has informed the public that several members of WHO’s expert group have also been secretly working for the pharmaceutical industry. Since revealing this information, a record of meetings and the conflict of interests of some of the experts have become accessible, but not all, including Juhani Eskola.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
In Finland, Professor Juhani Eskola is at the centre of a national conflict of interest. The Finnish Minister of Health has become involved in this case and has asked for transparency concerning the researcher’s financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry. However, Professor Eskola doesn’t agree that there is a problem. He secures and protects his ‘WHO’ status, by offering a minor ‘consultative payment’ to the pharmaceutical company, ‘Novartis.’
“Why haven’t you informed the public about a research grant of six million Euros from GlaxoSmithKline?” Professor Eskola comments, “It is a contract my chief and GSK have made, and I am not a part of the study, which receives the money.”
Regarding ‘WHO’s declaration on conflicts of interest, ‘SAGE’ experts are obliged to inform on all kinds of financial research support, scholarships, payment for collaboration and sponsor support for the research unit, during the past three years. “We have 1,400 researchers at ‘THL’ and if I declare every economic transaction I am a involved in then it gets complicated.
My interpretation of the WHO-declaration was that I didn’t have to declare the agreement of collaboration with GSK, as I neither receive the money personally nor do my research team. ‘WHO’ has asked me, and now I wait to be informed, whether they agree with my interpretation. If they don’t, they should make their declaration more clear.”
You are chair of the department and during 2009, GSK is your greatest contributor. Don’t you see a conflict of interests in this matter?
“It is a discussion we have had with the Finnish Minister of Health during the past few weeks but it is the ministry, who has bought the vaccines, not our institute. Pandemrix was chosen as the best vaccine and could be available soon at the Finnish market. The decision had to be made at the beginning of June and in my mind, the ministry of health chose the right solution, namely Pandemrix.”
But do you recognize a conflict of interest? – “We are aware that there appears to be a conflict of interest” he says.
According to WHO, all SAGE-members are obliged to inform about all financial interests, inclusive financing from the pharmaceutical industry, consulting payments and other forms of professional employment. Meanwhile, WHO has rejected an invitation to be interviewed about why not all financial interests of the WH -experts has been declared.
But in a mail WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl writes as follows:
“WHO has recently learned, that the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare has a research contract with GSK. The contract concerns a research project about pneumococcal-vaccine in the Finnish vaccination programme. WHO will take suitable action according to everything, which must be considered as conflicts of interests in this case.”
The Danish journalists have reported on other cases involving SAGE experts with financial links to pharmaceutical companies, many of which have not been declared… – details