BMJ Exposes WHO Corruption

June 12, 2010 Updated: October 1, 2015

Director-General Margaret Chan speaks before the World Health Organization assembly. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)
Director-General Margaret Chan speaks before the World Health Organization assembly. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

Last year the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the planet was in the throes of an influenza pandemic. Dr. Margaret Chan, the director general of the WHO, delivered the notice.

Her announcement triggered large-scale panic buying of flu vaccines and anti-viral drugs such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza). According to the investment bank J. P. Morgan, the pharmaceutical companies did very nicely out of this health scare, profiting to the tune of $7 billion from the sale of vaccines alone.

In reality, the “pandemic” turned out to be nothing of the sort. Estimates of cases and fatalities turned out to be wildly overblown. Apparently, many countries now have warehouses full of vaccines and drugs that they’re trying to offload, either back to the drug companies they bought them from or to other countries.

Of course, all this overreaction and unnecessary expense may have been nothing more than misguided and overcautious recommendations made by those at the WHO and those who advise it. However, there has been reports that the supposedly impartial advice from the WHO regarding the flu pandemic was, at least in part, the result of influence from the pharmaceutical industry.

The WHO has previously dismissed such allegations as “conspiracy theories.” Conspiracy theories can be just that—theories. But sometimes they can turn out to be true.

This has come to a head on the publication in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) of a report and accompanying editorial that focus on this issue. The report alone is voluminous, but here is a paragraph from it that neatly sums up the issues:

“A joint investigation by the BMJ and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has uncovered evidence that raises troubling questions about how WHO managed conflicts of interest among the scientists who advised its pandemic planning and about the transparency of the science underlying its advice to governments. Was it appropriate for WHO to take advice from experts who had declarable financial and research ties with pharmaceutical companies producing antivirals and influenza vaccines?

“Why was key WHO guidance authored by an influenza expert who had received payment for other work from Roche, manufacturers of oseltamivir, and GlaxoSmithKline, manufacturers of zanamivir? And why does the composition of the emergency committee from which Chan sought guidance remain a secret known only to those within WHO?

“We are left wondering whether major public health organizations are able to effectively manage the conflicts of interest that are inherent in medical science.”

When I’m lecturing, I am aware that I often say things that go against perceived wisdom. Once presented with the scientific facts, some people feel quite outraged that they may have been misled in a way that may well have jeopardized their health, for example, eating margarine rather than butter or consuming a low-fat, high-carb diet.

Does this mean we should reject out of hand what our governments and health agencies tell us? No. But when the advice does not fit the facts, it’s worth bearing in mind that industry has the capacity to exert influence at the highest level. It also appears to have the capacity to put profit before public health.

Dr. John Briffa is a London-based physician and author with an interest in nutrition and natural medicine. His website is