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A key book exposes how the large corporations are partnering with the World Health Organization in order to safeguard, and boost, their profits...

Who is running the WHO?


Not many people will have heard of Yves Beigbeder. In 2004 he wrote a remarkable book, International Public Health: Patients' Rights versus the Protection of Patents.

What was perhaps most remarkable about it (apart from its price at £47.50!) is how someone who worked for many years as senior international civil servant was prepared to write with such candour on the workings of the international health services.

Even more remarkable in today's world is his description of how capitalism and its principal agents, in the form of the American government and the usual suspects elsewhere in the world, have over the past 15 years systematically eradicated all structures which sought to deal cooperatively with international health problems. A review of the book in the Health Services Journal (March 2004) observed, "When we all look back on the era of George W. Bush, 'Big Dog' Diplomacy by coercion and the most powerful corporations bribing, lying and cheating their way towards global domination, this book will help explain how they seduced, corrupted and finally deluded the agencies of the United Nations."

The book deals with structures, the UN, in particular its agency the World Health Organization and other international outfits like the World Bank and the World Trade Organization. It also deals with health programmes such as breast feeding, polio and HIV.

Along the way many frightening facts are revealed. For example, "since 1979, the US has been recouping its entire contribution to smallpox eradication every 26 days" (p101). Throughout this period the American government has been withdrawing more financially from its contribution to the eradication of smallpox, than it had ever put in.

For Beigbeder, transnational corporations fall into three main groups: those representing drug interests (Big Pharma), international agriculture corporations (Big Farmer), and weapons manufacturers (Big Armer).

The future of the United Nations in all this is crucial. As the organisation established by and representing the victorious powers in the war against fascism, including at the time the Soviet Union, its position now is especially important. The UN is the main channel through which small nations and the poorest people in the world have any opportunity to influence international policy. The World Health Organization has a key role to play. It was established in 1948 as a special agency of the UN, and in 1974 the United Nations General Assembly (which of course represents overwhelmingly the poorest countries in the world and in 1974 had far more revolutionary politics in it than now) established an Intergovernmental Commission on Trans National Corporations (UNCTC). The general assembly did this as it was increasingly concerned by the transnational corporations' commercial practices, political pressures and corruption.

Also in 1974, a multifaceted control programme of tropical disease (onchocerciasis) was launched in West Africa, and became the most successful and sustained partnership between the World Health Organization and external collaborators. In 1977 WHO launched "Health For All", seeking to address health needs on a global and sustainable basis. In 1978, the Alma Ata Declaration provided a public health agenda based on a model of global health.

Following America's dream come true, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the demise of these international arrangements was rapid. In 1992, the UNCTC was wound down. In 1993, the United Nations resolved to use the power of "the market" and "active collaboration" with the International Chamber of Commerce. This replaced public health initiatives by sovereign governments grouped together under the World Health Organisation.

Global compact
In 1999, Kofi Annan of the United Nations and Adnan Kassar of the International Chamber of Commerce, laid the foundations for the "Global Compact". Also in 1999, the "Alliance for a Corporate-free United Nations" began as a backlash against these developments, seeking to expose what it called the poor human rights and environmental records of these corporations.

In the year 2000, the UN Global Compact together with private corporations was launched by Kofi Annan without the endorsement of either UN member states, or the support of the non-governmental agencies. This was a kind of "public/private partnership" on an international scale, using the good offices of the United Nations World Health Organization as a cover.

In the next few years we will see whether the availability, cost and effectiveness of vaccinations, for example, benefit from an Alliance which in reality now means that transnational corporations (Big Pharma) are running the World Health Organization.

A fascinating read, extensive in its coverage and with its cripplingly high price, definitely worth approaching the public library to purchase to make it more widely accessible.

International Public Health: Patients' Rights versus the Protection of Patents, by Yves Beigbeder, £47.50, is published by Ashgate, ISBN:0754636216.