Info Service on Health Issues (May18/03)
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:
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 (https://www.world-heart-federation.org/about-us/our-family/our-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.
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.
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.)