A group of 33 civil society organisations has expressed concern over the possibility of “corporate influences” and “conflict of interest” creeping into the working of the World Health Organisation.


The concern comes against the backdrop of the 68th World Health Assembly (WHA) currently underway in Geneva. The WHA is the supreme decision-making body in the World Health Organisation (WHO) and recently announced Indian Health Minister Dr Jagat Prakash Nadda as its new President.


In a joint letter from Geneva, the civil society organisations have red-flagged what they call “attempts to facilitate corporate takeover” of the WHO. And their concern comes as the drafting group meets to put in place a Framework for Engagement with Non–State Actors (FENSA) for the WHO.


The civil society organisations called on WHO member-states to take all the time required to achieve a robust framework for engagement with non-state actors, to protect the WHO from undue influence.

They also called on members to support the WHO Director-General’s proposals to increase assessed (mandatory) contributions from donors.


FENSA was initiated to safeguard the independence, integrity, and credibility of WHO, and it now seems to face the threat of “facilitating and legitimising” corporate influence, the note said.


There is a strong apprehension that negotiations on FENSA may fundamentally alter engagements with the private sector and philanthropic foundations and non-government organisations sponsored by the private sector in a manner compromising the credibility of WHO, the note added.


“Many proposals by rich countries in the draft FENSA text promotes corporate capture of WHO in the name of promotion of engagements without discussion on any comprehensive mechanism to avoid conflict of interest. These proposals, if accepted, would institutionalise undue corporate influence on WHO,” Lida Lhotska with the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), said in the statement.


Rich member-state donors were deliberately undermining WHO by weakening its capacity to promote global health by “underfunding, tight earmarking of donor funding and opening spaces for corporate influence,” the signatories alleged.


“We learned that many Member States are opposing any curb in exi(s)ting practices, which facilitate corporate intrusion in WHO. The opposition of certain member-states to ban the secondment from the private sector and other non-state actors as well as using financial resources from the private sector to pay the salary of WHO staff reinforces the status quo and threatens the credibility of WHO,” said K M Gopakumar with the Third World Network (TWN).


Over the last four years WHO has been through a far-reaching reform programme driven in part by arguments that the freeze on assessed contributions should remain in place until the organisation addresses its inefficiencies, the note explained.


“The refusal of an increase in the assessed contribution is the technique deployed to force WHO to open up for corporate influence,” added Dr David Legge, Peoples Health Movement (PHM), adding that the compromised flexibility in financial resources makes the WHO vulnerable, forcing it to look for resources from donors with profit motive, thereby, endangering the constitutional mandate of the WHO.