Journalist Helen Epstein in the latest New York Review of Books has produced a valuable look back at the 2009 H1N1 pandemic flu scare, leading Afghanistan to quarantine its only pig — only one of several absurdities costing the world economy billions of dollars in lost economic activity through reduced tourism, slain farm animals and unnecessary stockpiling of medical supplies. One group that benefited from the pandemic scare, however, was the global pharmaceutical industry, especially Hoffmann-LaRoche, which sells the marginally effective anti-influenza drug Tamiflu.
When the pandemic didn’t appear (global flu deaths in 2009 fell to less than 20,000 persons, making it one of the milder flu seasons on record), it left European and other governments with stockpiles of drugs and vaccines worth hundreds of millions of dollars. They began asking questions:
In March 2010, a Council of Europe report concluded that the H1N1 virus was known to be mild well before the WHO issued the pandemic “declaration” and expressed concern about the influence of powerful pharmaceutical companies over decision-making at the agency. A draft of the WHO’s response was released in March 2011. It calls for more “transparency” but concludes that “no critic of WHO has produced any direct evidence of commercial influence on decision-making.”
Epstein rebuts that finding. She cites the case of Roy Anderson, a prominent British epidemiologist and adviser to both the WHO and the UK government, who “gravely warned a BBC radio audience that only Relenza (a flu medicine made by GlaxoSmithKline) and Tamiflu would prevent a catastrophe on the scale of the 1918 influenza pandemic. At the time, Anderson was receiving £116,000 per year from GlaxoSmithKline.” She concludes:
During the ten years leading up to the pandemic declaration of 2009, scientists associated with the companies that were to profit from the WHO’s “pandemic preparedness” programs, including Roche and GlaxoSmithKline, were involved at virtually every stage of the development of those programs. The companies funded the documents giving guidance on preparing for the influenza pandemic, in which the WHO recommended the stockpiling of Tamiflu and Relenza. Consultants drafted parts of these documents and joined WHO officials in fund-raising for the Tamiflu stockpile. Industry-supported scientists were also on the committee that issued the “pandemic emergency declaration.” That announcement caused developing countries to request assistance from the WHO’s Tamiflu stockpile fund, and these requests contributed to a tripling of the drug’s sales in 2009. By declaring a pandemic and linking the response to Tamiflu stockpiling, the WHO could not have done a better job of promoting Roche’s interests.
The U.S. spent $3.2 billion in pandemic flu preparations in 2009, she writes. Perhaps it’s time for someone to investigate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decision-making during this period to see if similar conflicts of interest were involved here.Did you like this? If so, please bookmark it, RSS feed.