WHO Denies Industry Money Unduly Influencing Non-Communicable Disease Fight

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World Health Organization Director General Margaret Chan today issued a statement attempting to clarify the UN agency’s relationship with the industries – like producers of junk food and soda – in line to be regulated as the UN moves to battle globally rising non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

“The allegations in these articles are wrong,” Chan said of recent news articles, such as this one by Reuters, asserting that the food and beverage industries are buying a seat at the UN negotiating table. The intergovernmental WHO has sought to retain its credibility as it battles an internal funding crisis. WHO is currently negotiating a framework on NCDs.

The WHO has strict policies keeping industry at arm’s length and documenting all relationships and potential conflicts of interest, Chan said.

“[A]ccording to WHO policy, funds may not be sought or accepted from enterprises that have a direct commercial interest in the outcome of the project toward which they would be contributing,” the statement said, adding that advisers with conflicts of interest are excluded from advisory groups. “For this reason, the Organization does not accept funding from the food and beverage manufacturers for work on NCD prevention and control.”

However, Chan acknowledged that the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has taken money from the food and beverage industries for its NCD work. PAHO “is unique among WHO’s Regional Offices because it contains two separate legal entities – the WHO Regional Office for the Americas (AMRO) and the health agency of the Organization of the American States,” the statement said. “In some areas the two entities may have variations in policy. For example, as mentioned in the media reports, in its capacity as PAHO, food and beverage manufacturers have contributed financially as part of a multi-sector forum to address NCDs.”

The September 2011 Political Declaration of the High-level Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases, included a series of actions.

“One of these actions,” WHO said, “was to call on the private sector to promote measures to implement WHO recommendations to reduce exposure to the risk factors which contribute to NCDs. The WHO Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health commits WHO to hold discussions with the private sector, but the Organization will not take money from private companies active in food and beverage production for work on NCD prevention and control as implied by the media articles.”

William New may be reached at wnew@ip-watch.ch.

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