Thursday, October 07, 2004

WHO Knew??

This story is very concerning. One of the last times I heard a even headed person defend the UN, it was in regards to WHO (World Health Organization). Here is the article:
Aid packages sent to children in Sudan's malaria-plagued Darfur region "contain anti-malarial medicines that do not work," said Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) on Tuesday at a Congressional hearing on neglected diseases before an International Relations subcommittee. Brownback's assertion comes as no surprise to those who have followed global health issues lately. The United Nations agencies responsible for international health campaigns have made a series of tragic missteps in recent months.

The World Health Organization (WHO), an arm of the United Nations, has been fending off "malaria malpractice" allegations from public health experts most of this year. A recent article in the British medical journal The Lancet blasted the agency for providing ineffective malaria medicines to suffering Africans. And now the drugs in question in Sudan, supplied by the UN agency, UNICEF, are believed to be doing more harm than good as well.
The United States funds nearly one quarter of the UN's total budget and one fifth of the WHO's budget. Given the extent of the problems at these agencies, it's time for Congress to act.

UNICEF and WHO have been supplying the drug chloroquine to malaria sufferers in numerous African countries. The drug has been a mainstay in anti-malaria programs for the past 50 years. But it is beginning to show signs of failure due to drug resistance. In Ethiopia and Sudan, for example, failure rates have reached as high as 88 percent. More effective treatments are available, and yet these global health bodies continue procuring bad medicines.
This is not the first time the UN has been caught squandering dollars on flawed public health interventions and acted outside of its charter. In 1995, the inventor of an experimental malaria vaccine known as SPf66 granted WHO an exclusive, worldwide license to his patent. Even though the WHO is not a regulatory agency and has been hostile to the global patent system, it did so in this case and the results, according to a New York Times expose in 1996, were deeply troubling. The WHO had conducted human trials of this vaccine on refugees in Thailand and Gambia. The rates of malaria increased after the patients were injected with SPf66. It was never clear if this vaccine was even tested on animals first -- as is normal -- and to what degree, if any, WHO informed these refugees that they were participating in a drug trial.

WHO's Roll Back Malaria campaign, launched in 1998, has largely failed. Pledging to halve malaria cases by the year 2010 and seeking hundreds of millions of dollars to achieve success, the program -- now at the halfway mark -- has actually seen an increase in malaria deaths in impoverished regions.
In addition to its malaria control problems, the Geneva-based agency has endured a scandal-plagued summer over AIDS treatment. In a rush to meet its target of treating 3 million people living with HIV by 2005, the WHO endorsed the widespread use of knock-off AIDS drugs manufactured in India. But as it turns out, several of the drugs approved by WHO for AIDS treatment have not met important bio-equivalence tests. As such, three years after approving the drugs, treatments of unknown efficacy are in use in the field by healthcare officials who are ill-equipped to pull them, offer alternative treatments, or even inform their patients they might be receiving bad drugs. Worse, the possibility that these shoddy healthcare practices could facilitate future HIV resistance -- thus worsening the deadly disease -- has given health experts around the globe grave concerns.

Of all the global health bodies, the WHO is the trend-setter for international health policy and as such deserves the closest scrutiny. Some in Washington are starting to ask if US taxpayer dollars - which amount to about 23% of the agency's overall budget -- are being well-spent. Citizens Against Government Waste, a Washington-based budget watchdog organization, sent a scathing letter to Congressional leaders this month calling for an investigation into the WHO's policies. "Because American tax dollars are at risk, CAGW believes Congress should investigate this issue further, particularly whether WHO's drug 'approval' process is legitimate."

On behalf of the US taxpayers who constitute WHO's most significant donor source, Congress must investigate the mismanagement in Geneva. In addition to WHO's malaria and AIDS mess, there have been questionable policy decisions with respect to measles, obesity, substitute milk products, and tobacco control, to name but a few. More than a few hundred million dollars have been misspent so far. Meanwhile, many lives have needlessly been lost.

If this disregard for basic medical care and full disclosure to patients doesn't scare you, I don't know what would. This is unforgivable.