World Health Organisation accused of improper soliciting of funds from the pharmaceutical industry

It seems that not a week goes by without some information leaking out about the sometimes too-cosy relationship that can exist between the pharmaceutical industry and organisations we rely on for giving us impartial health information and advice. This particular week’s story concerns accusations that a representative of the World Health Organisation (WHO) attempted to solicit funds from the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, and then siphon them through an organisation to obscure the source of the those funds.

The individual at the centre of this controversy is Dr Benedetto Saraceno, director of the WHO’s department of mental health and substance abuse. It is alleged that he was seeking �£5000 ($10,000; 7000 euros) to pay for the preparation for a report on neurological diseases including Parkinson’s disease. The WHO has a strict policy that forbids it from taking funds from the pharmaceutical industry, and quite right so.

However, in an email that has been passed to the British Medical Journal, Dr Saraceno appears to suggest that to get around this, money from GSK should be paid to an organisation known as the European Parkinson’s Disease Association (EPDA). In an email to the EPDA, Dr Saraceno writes WHO cannot receive funds from the pharmaceutical industry, and goes on to add I suggest that this money should be given to EPDA and eventually EPDA can send the funds to WHO which will give and invoice (and acknowledgment contribution) to EPDA but not to GSK.

It is alleged that GSK promptly withdrew its offer once it became clear they would not be officially recognised as the source of this funding.

Since the somewhat”damning correspondence came to light, it seems that Dr Saraceno has attempted to do some major backtracking. He claims that his original email to EPDA was clumsily worded and that he denied ever suggesting that funds from GSK be siphoned through the EPDA. Personally, I find it hard to imagine what it is about the wording of Dr Saraceno’s email to the EPDA that is in any way clumsy. And neither does Mary Baker – the person at the EPDA to whom Dr Saraceno was writing. She is quoted as saying 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 take it and disguise its origins by getting EPDA to accept it first before passing it on.

When the BMJ put its concerns about this rather distasteful episode to the WHO, a spokesman apparently replied It’s astonishing that the BMJ thinks there’s a story here. Dr Saraceno sent a second email saying he had not meant to ask for the money. So I don’t think there’s anything to answer. Does the WHO really believe that just because one of its employees denies impropriety, even when presented with evidence that appears to suggest otherwise, that there is no case to answer? I have a feeling that many who learn of this sorry state of affairs would beg to differ.


1. Day M. Who’s funding WHO? British Medical Journal 2007;334:338-340

6 Responses to World Health Organisation accused of improper soliciting of funds from the pharmaceutical industry

  1. Neil 20 February 2007 at 10:32 pm #

    If any organisation should be taint-free, its the WHO!!

  2. Dr John Briffa 21 February 2007 at 1:48 am #

    Yes, quite.

  3. John Stone 24 February 2007 at 11:12 am #

    Some other links for the WHO:

    Marc Girard,’ World Health Organization,Vaccine Recommendations: Scientific Flaws or Scientific/Criminal Misconduct?’

    Also my own:

    ‘Mercury and Autism in the UK’

    It would be a complete misconception to see the WHO as benign institution which has been corrupted at the fringe: it is simply the instrument of certain powerful interests.

  4. John Briffa 24 February 2007 at 11:21 am #

    Thank you John
    If you have access to the BMJ you can see some rapid responses that have come in, all of which apparently vouch for Dr Saraceno’s supposed integrity, and refute any notion of any impropriety. Obviously, we cannot know or judge whether he did wrong or not. However, fellow professionals (who themselves also are in no position to judge) leaping to his defence reminds me of what happened when it came out that Sir Richard Doll appeared to have been ‘on the take’. See:

  5. John Stone 24 February 2007 at 12:08 pm #

    The reality is that we are talking about fields of institutional influence: Ben Goldacre’s ‘Good Science’ is basically science as manipulated and controlled by the bio-tech industry. The best assessment of this come in the House of Commons Health Committee report on the influence of the pharmaceutical industry:

    The reality is that the gold standard of “peer review” is worse than useless: you get the science they pay for (with our money). The so-called fringe also cannot compete for a number of reasons, none of which are purely scientific.

    1)The peer review journal will ignore evidence if do not like it.

    2) The sheer cost of performing certain kinds of study.

    3) In a field where remedies are individually tailored the benefits cannot necessarily be tested on a population basis.

  6. Riikka Söyring 9 December 2009 at 11:30 pm #

    my name is Riikka Söyring. I´m from Finland.

    I am very interested in all You can tell me about WHO-IMF-BigPharma connections or anything to enlighten me in this vaccinebusiness.

    THL (finnish Health- and Wellbeing Department) has been sued to court as they refuse to tell the real ingredients of Pandemrix-swinefluvaccine. We have strong reasons to believe that it is untested, illegal nanovaccine containing AS03.
    Novartis´s Celtura contains MF59 which is also against EurLex.

    FIMEA says they know nothing about nanovaccines (adjuvant with nanosized, dangerous moleculs. I am sorry that I do not know the proper terms as I am just a very concerned citizen with no medical training).
    THL is financed by GlaxoSmithKline as much as 60%.

    You can contact me through my blog

    as I think that after I went on trails of the WHO, STM (finnish Social- and Health Ministry) and THL my e-mail has been monitored, so weirdly my PC acts everytime I open a window to any of the Swineflupages.

Leave a Reply