May 18, 2011
We write to express our concerns about governance of the World Health Organization (WHO) and other public health bodies, as regards the management of conflicts of interest.
WHO and other public health institutions have complex relations with commercial entities that supply health care products and services. In some cases the commercial entities are subject to or in need of regulation, in order to protect consumers and promote the public interest. Public health institutions are also often engaged in buying goods and services, or providing financial assistance for such purchases.
It is therefore widely recognized that governments and public health institutions like the WHO must avoid conflicts of interest in all aspects of governance. WHO can only respond meaningfully to the challenges of public health through greater transparency and accountability guided by the priorities of Member States and the advance of public interest. However, transparency is a necessary but not sufficient safe guard: there must also be a clear approach and policy to ensure that those representing commercial interests are not part of policy and norm setting decision making.