TWN Info Service on Health Issues (May18/03)
21 May  2018
Third World Network

WHO:  Majority of NCD Civil Society Working Group receives industry funding

Geneva 21 May (K M Gopakumar and Amit Sengupta) – The majority of members of the Civil Society Working Group on the third High Level Meeting of the UN General Assembly on non-communicable diseases have links with the pharmaceutical or medical device industry.

These links are mainly in the form of financial resources, raising issues of conflict of interest.

The adoption of the Framework on Engagement with non-State Actors (FENSA) in 2016 by the World Health Assembly of ministers brought the promise that issues related to conflict of interest would be addressed and that WHO’s norm setting activities would be free of corporate influence. Policies, norms and standards setting in FENSA include information gathering, preparation for, elaboration of and the decision on the normative text.

Thus there are serious concerns over the membership of the Working Group convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) as part of the process preparing for the 27 September 2018 High-level Meeting on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

The High-Level meeting at the annual UN General Assembly in New York will undertake a comprehensive review of the global and national progress achieved in putting measures in place that protect people from dying too young from heart and lung diseases, cancers and diabetes. The first two High-Level Meetings took place in 2011 and 2014.

Preparations for the September meeting will be discussed at the 71st World Health Assembly, the decision making body of the WHO, when it meets at the WHO headquarters in Geneva from 21 to 26 May 2018.

[In 2014, the UN General Assembly adopted an Outcome Document on NCDs that included four time-bound national commitments to be implemented in 2015 and 2016 to reduce risk factors for NCDs, provide better care for those with NCDs, and track trends and progress. According to the WHO (2017), NCDs kill approximately 40 million people globally each year, accounting for 70% of all deaths. About 15 million of those deaths are in people between the ages of 30 and 69. Low- and middle-income countries are particularly affected by NCDs with more than 80% of all deaths from NCDs occurring in these countries.]

The 25-member Working Group was constituted in October 2017. Its terms of reference are:

  • More civil society organizations (and from a broader range of sectors) mobilized in 2018 than in 2011 and 2014 to engage in a meaningful way in the preparatory process leading to the (third) High-level Meeting, as well as the High Level Meeting itself;
  • Strategic communications plan developed to raise the awareness among policy makers and non-State actors about the relevance of the third High-level Meeting for attaining SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) target 3.4 on NCDs and mental health, and other health -related targets in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development;
  • Recommendations provided to WHO on how to ensure that the High-level Meeting in 2018 is a more successful meeting than in 2011 and 2014 and proves to be a tipping point for the NCD response;
  • Business case developed for the establishment of a UN Civil Society Task Force on NCDs (under the auspices of the President of the UN General Assembly);
  • Proposal developed for the establishment of a network of political champions for NCDs that could drive the participation of Heads of State and Government attending the third High-level Meeting.

Out of 25 members, 10 are directly receiving contributions from the pharmaceutical or medical device industry. Three are linked to organisation receiving funds.

The Working Group members with direct links to pharmaceutical or medical device manufacturers are: the NCD Alliance (Co-Chair of the Woking Group), International Diabetic Foundation, International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, Union for International Cancer Control, Santé Diabète, World Dental Federation, NCD Child, Healthy Caribbean Coalition, Alzheimer’s Disease International, World Obesity Federation and World Medical Association.

Tiny Hearts of the Maldives, another member, is part of the World Heart Foundation (WHF). WHF lists AMGEN, AstraZeneca, Bayer Health Care, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol Myers Squibb, Novartis, Pfizer, Sanofi Regenron, Philips and Medtronic as partners. Apart from these companies it also lists Unilever, Respect, Manulife and Ferrer as among its partners (

There are two more members affiliated to the NCD Alliance from the Eastern Mediterranean and East Africa.

The Co-Chair of the Working Group is Ms Katie Dain, CEO of the NCD Alliance. NCD Alliance website states: “NCD Alliance supporters include all current funders of NCDA, including NGOs, foundations, and private sector companies”. The 2016 annual report lists the following companies as private sector supporters: Sanofi, Medtronic, Merck, Lilly and Novo Nordisk.

Its three founding members International Diabetes Federation, (IDF), the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) and the World Heart Federation (WHF), joined later by the International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union), also receive financial support from pharmaceutical companies.

IDF lists four types of partners viz golden, silver, bronze and partner: Current golden partners are AstraZeneca, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi Diabetes. Silver Partners are Lilly Diabetes, MSD and Merck.  The bronze partner is Boehringer Ingelheim. Partners are Bayer, BD Novartis, Servier and Sunlife.
The Union receives funds from pharmaceutical companies for specific projects, including from Elli Lilly, Janssen Pharmaceutical, Johnson & Johnson del Peru S.A., Otsuka and Cepheid.

UICC lists the following pharmaceutical companies as among its partners: Roche, Pfizer, Astellas, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim, Novartis, Celgene, MSD, Johnson&Johnson, Amgen, AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Celgene, Teva, Takeda.

Despite FENSA now being part of the WHO’s procedures, the industry links of the NCD Working Group tantamount to a serious breach where organisations with corporate interests are projected as civil society organisations (CSOs). It points to gross inadequacies in how FENSA is being applied and risks WHO as legitimising corporate interests in the name of CSOs.+

(Edited by Chee Yoke Ling.)