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Feature Drug industry sponsorship

Who's funding WHO?

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: (Published 15 February 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:338
  1. Michael Day, freelance journalist
  1. London
  1. miday{at}

    WHO guidelines state that it will not accept money from drug companies, but how rigorous is it in enforcing this? Michael Day investigates

    Serious questions have been raised about whether the World Health Organization is using patient groups as a conduit for receiving proscribed donations from the pharmaceutical industry. Email correspondence passed to the BMJ seems to show that in June 2006 Benedetto Saraceno, the director of WHO's department of mental health and substance abuse, suggested that a patient organisation accept $10 000 (£5000; €7000) from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) on WHO's behalf. The sum was then to be passed on to WHO—ostensibly with the intention of obscuring the origins of the donation. GSK withdrew its offer of funding when it learnt that acceptance was conditional on obscuring its origin. However, the email exchange indicates that other sums of money originating from drug companies may have already been channelled to WHO through patient groups.

    When asked about this correspondence, Dr Saraceno told the BMJ that his email to the patient organisation was “clumsily worded” and that he had “never intended to solicit donations from the pharmaceutical industry through” the patient organisation. In the email dated 16 June 2006, Dr Saraceno thanks Mary Baker of the European Parkinson's Disease Association (EPDA), for raising the $10 000 “requested by the WHO.” The money was to have funded a report on neurological diseases, including Parkinson's disease, for which GSK produces treatments.

    Dr Saraceno then seems to advise Mary Baker on how to get round the WHO's rules forbidding drug industry funding. “Unfortunately,” he says, “WHO cannot receive funds from pharmaceutical industry. Our legal Office will reject the donation. WHO can only receive funds from Government agencies, NGOs, foundations and scientific institutions or professional organisations. Therefore, I suggest that this money should be given to EPDA and eventually …

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