Key World Health Organization personnel who advised on the stockpiling of pandemic flu drugs had financial ties with companies which stood to profit, an investigation has found. The British Medical Journal says these individuals had openly declared these interests, yet WHO made no mention of the links. It comes as a report from the Council of Europe criticised the lack of transparency around the handling of the pandemic.
A spokesman for WHO said the drug industry did not influence its decisions. Guidelines recommending that governments stockpile antiviral drugs were issued by WHO in 2004. The advice prompted many countries around the world into buying up large stocks of Tamiflu, made by Roche, and Relenza manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline.
The BMJ, in a joint investigation with The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, found that three scientists involved in putting together the 2004 guidance had previously been paid by Roche or GSK for lecturing and consultancy work, as well as being involved in research for the companies.
It is not clear whether these conflicts were notified privately by WHO to governments around the world, and a request to see conflict of interest declarations was turned down. In addition, membership of the emergency committee that advised WHO's director general Margaret Chan on declaring an influenza pandemic has been kept secret. It means the names of the 16 committee members are known only to people within WHO, and as such their possible conflicts of interest with drug companies are unknown.