Friday, 23 October 2015

So you thought the World Health Organisation was accountable to governments? Think again.

Does the man on the left have too much influence over international health policy?

Today's egregious piece of nannying fussbucketry is about the health risks associated with eating processed meats like sausages and bacon:

The World Health Organisation is reportedly planning to declare that bacon, sausages and other processed meat cause cancer.

Red meat is also expected to be listed as being “probably carcinogenic to humans”.

A source told The Daily Mail that the announcements were expected to be made on Monday with processed meat put in the same category as cigarettes, alcohol and asbestos.

Truth be told, the WHO isn't really doing this at all merely repeating again that there is some evidence linking the heavy consumption of these foods to bowel cancers. The problem is that, as we're finding out with sugar and found out with salt, the health establishments in western countries use the WHO as the source for 'evidence' to substantiate decisions around all-population health interventions (erroneously called 'public health').

For once, I'm not going to raise questions about the validity of the research on which the WHO bases its argument (although the reporting in the Daily Mail, Independent and other media is utterly misleading and appalling). Instead I want to talk about the World Health Organisation itself.

The WHO was set up in 1948 and describes its primary role as to "direct and coordinate international health within the United Nations’ system". To do this the WHO employs over 7000 people working in 150 country offices, in 6 regional offices and at their headquarters in Geneva. The organisation's recently approved budget is $4,385 million which is spent across the following areas: health systems, promoting health through the life-course, noncommunicable diseases, communicable diseases, corporate services, preparedness, surveillance and response. Although most of the spend is still on communicable diseases, disaster response and preparedness, there has been a gradual shift towards a focus on 'non-communicable' diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes. This reflects success (not much of which is down to the WHO) in reducing levels of communicable disease.

Now you'd have thought that this $4.4 billion budget comes from the members of the WHO - the 194 countries who subscribe to the organisation. However, you'd be wrong. While a lot of money does come from members (which is means tested to reflect differentials in national wealth), the biggest part of the WHO's income comes in the form of 'voluntary' contributions.

That money comes from two separate sources of funding: assessed contributions from WHO’s 194 member states (means tested) and voluntary contributions from member states and non-government funders such as foundations, investment banks, multi-national corporations, and non-government organisations.

Back in 2011, 80% of the WHO's income came from those voluntary contributions with the single largest contributor in that category being the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF):

Just one foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (yes Bill Gates, the man who gave the world Microsoft and his wife) donated most of that – slightly more than $446m in fact. That’s more than any other donor except the United States and 24 times more money than Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa combined

And these voluntary contributions aren't freely available to the WHO, they come with strings attached - how that $446m gets spent is determined by Bill and Melinda not by the WHO.

On one level this isn't a problem because the WHO gets extra money to spend on its great work improving the health of millions. But on another level it is a problem. The WHO is, as a UN agency, granted authority and influence over public policy decisions. In most cases this isn't direct - the WHO has no regulatory authority - but things such as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control show how the organisation can lead on international, regional and national policy. As vapers discovered when directing their campaign to the European Union, that body was able to use the FCTC's statements on e-cigs as the basis for decision-making.

This means that private organisations like BMGF and Bloomberg Philanthropies, by providing much of the WHO's funding while exercising control over how that money is used, are more influential than the majority of national governments. And because these are philanthropic institutions there is little control or regulation of that influence (unlike for corporations or groups of corporations). The truth is that the WHO is more accountable to Bill Gates and Mike Bloomberg than it is to its recognised governance structures, let alone national member governments or the public in general.

The WHO - like other UN agencies - has a veneer of democratic accountability covering over its effective control through collaboration between private foundations and the organisation's management. You might have thought the WHO was accountable to governments, but you'd be wrong.



Anonymous said...

I doubt the UN feels it is obligated to report to any elected democratic government in the entire world to begin with, but with them receiving so much private funding, they no doubt do report to those who fund them, thus being paid propagandists for whoever pays them the highest amount, which is of course, corruption. Instead of the UN doing much more of anything, it's about time they go the way of Legion Of Nations and be disbanded and ignored - entirely. They are the biggest waste of money and one of the more destructive forces, posing as goodness, this world has ever known. Down with the UN, indeed, in my opinion of them, and scarcely much missed on top of it.

Michael J. McFadden said...

"The World Health Organisation is reportedly planning to declare that bacon, sausages and other processed meat cause cancer."

If bacon causes cancer, then, according to the no-threshold theory of carcinogenesis, there is "no safe level" of exposure to bacon.

This of course includes the billions of ultrafine airborne particles that fly up and cover the walls behind the stove and fly through the air space of apartment buildings where pig-corpse-eaters fry such products in their pans.

In addition to spreading cancer in such buildings, picture the dilemma of those whose religious faiths forbid them from ingesting or even wearing pork products, even in the smallest quantities. Just as nonsmokers are held to be "passively smoking" in such situations, are not these folks being forced to "passively ingest" forbidden pork?

It is clear that the only logical outcome, one that will be consistent with the bans on smoking, will be to prohibit such products, or at least such methods of cooking preparation of those products, in multi-unit or attached-unit (i.e. rowhouse) dwellings.

Welcome to our new world... Courtesy of your friendly neighborhood Antismoker.


Unknown said...

The purpose of the ban on smoking in public places, however, was to protect non-smokers. It was thus based on nothing?

Absolutely nothing! The psychosis began with the publication of a report by the IARC, International Agency for Research on Cancer, which depends on the WHO (Editor's note: World Health Organization). The report released in 2002 says it is now proven that passive smoking carries serious health risks, but without showing the evidence. Where are the data? What was the methodology? It's everything but a scientific approach. It was creating fear that is not based on anything.