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Dr. Germán Velásquez arrived at the WHO in 1989. His experience as an economist led him to create the Health Economics and Drug Financing Unit of the World Health Organization. Since then he became Director of the WHO Secretariat for Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property. His time in this UN agency was not ephemeral, he spent more than 20 years and during that time he made himself known, among other things because Germán Velásquez promoted a tireless battle for full access to medicines at the global level.
That struggle was what led him to carry out research on the impact of Globalization on access to medicines, a study known as the ‘WHO Red Book’. This work “infuriated the pharmaceutical industry and also some countries, such as the United States,” explains to SER Germán Velásquez. In fact, the UN had to protect him after suffering several aggressions and death threats. Even today, he does not want to talk about the matter, nor who was behind it, although he has no doubt that certain sectors were uncomfortable with the philosophy of that document, which dismantled the usefulness of the patents on medicines and the damage they caused in access to essential medicines.
Germán Velásquez strongly opposed the declaration of “Pandemic” for the N1H1 virus (swine flu) in 2009 and complains about the fact that the WHO actually got privatized in a frank interview with spanish radio channel la SER (june 2016).
Extract of the interview (auto-translation not checked)
You have been, among other things, no less than the director of the World Drug Program of the WHO. Now, from the outside, how would you define the role that the WHO is playing in the defense of world health?
“It has been the reference agency for almost 70 years, the WHO has played a very important role in defining global policies, until very recently. But the WHO, unfortunately, is in an accelerated process of privatization. It is entering a situation of conflict, it is ceasing to have the role that it always played, and for which it was founded, the world arbitrator of public health”.
What do you understand by the process of privatization, with what interests and with what objectives?
“The problem with voluntary donations is that the donor decides what [his money] is for, so it escapes the deliberations and priority-setting of all countries worldwide. To put it simply, over 80% of the WHO budget is private or public, but voluntary, contributions, which are concentrated in individual countries, the Bill Gates Foundation, and the pharmaceutical industry.
According to the WHO’s own funding data, the organization has received $90 million in donations from major pharmaceutical companies. Do these donations condition the independence of the WHO in making decisions?
“Absolutely. One example, 90% of the Drug Program (which was directed by German Velasquez) is now funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, they are giving the money only for the issues that Bill Gates is interested in, so that the program only focuses on the projects that it has money for, the rest stays on paper. For example, there is no longer any work on the rational use of drugs program.
Some people think that the problem with these million-dollar contributions from the pharmaceutical industry is that the WHO can make public health decisions that may end up benefiting these same companies. Is this speculation, or is it a true theory?
“It is a theory that is totally true, it has happened, and it is happening. When a donor gives money, for example, to the pharmaceutical industry, these representatives ask to be present on the expert committees of the various programs. There is a serious conflict of interest. What happened with the H1N1 epidemic, the potential manufacturers of vaccines and drugs, such as Tamiflu, were sitting on the committee that was deciding whether to launch an epidemic or not.
According to official data, the World Health Organization received $90 million in donations from major pharmaceutical companies during 2015. Here you can check all the information.
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