Geneva, 9th April 2012
Open Letter to Prof. Louis Loutan, President
of the Geneva Health Forum 2012
The Open Letter to Prof. Louis Loutan, President
of the Geneva Health Forum 2012
is also available on PDF file- DOWNLOAD HERE !
The 2012 edition of the Geneva Health Forum (GHF) on ‘A Critical Shift to Chronic Conditions: Learning from the Frontliners’ will bring together health practitioners and public health experts from all around the world. The theme is of outmost importance as the right to health for all cannot be achieved without addressing chronic conditions. International conferences like yours are, thus, crucial opportunities to discuss ways forward and these discussions often influence practices as well as policies.
While we fully support the GHF’s main stated objective of making a deliberate effort to give a voice to the frontliners and learn from their experiences, we are concerned that a considerable space is being given to the voice of powerful for-profit corporations and related organizations, such as IFPMA, Nestlé and several pharmaceutical companies, who both sponsor and host parts of the Forum. We acknowledge the difficulty in funding such a large event; however we are disappointed to see that once again the GHF organizers are accepting funding for this event from corporate sponsors, and as a consequence, conceding parts of its program to these actors.
In your response to our letter of 2010, you informed us that you were already reflecting on the “need for an ethical framework for sponsorships”. You stated that, in 2010, the Organizing Committee had started working on “clearly defining [y]our core values” and that you were working in developing “guiding principles for partnership and sponsorship” thanks to the assistance of a mandated consultant. We received such commitment with great appreciation. However, we are disappointed to see that to date no ethical framework has been adopted and that the 2012 edition of the GHF suffers from the same shortcomings as the previous one. While we note the recent posting of the ‘Funding and program policy’, such policy cannot replace a comprehensive ethical framework. The policy allows for up to one third of the overall GHF funding from the private sector and does not contain any criteria to indicate which funding sources from the private sector are considered permissible and which are not.
As our area of expertise is in infant and young child feeding, we are particularly concerned that funding sources include for GHF 2012 corporations such as Nestlé and Pfizer/Wyeth. As we already informed you in 2010, Nestlé has been systematically violating the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes since its adoption. Wyeth has a similar record. This is despite the fact that companies are asked to comply with this global public health recommendation independently of whether states have taken any action to give effect to the Code nationally.
Compliance with the Code is recognized as one measure for industry to fulfill their responsibility to respect the child right to adequate nutrition and health, under the Convention of the Rights of the Child. This has been highlighted recently also by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food and by the newly adopted Children’s Rights and Business Principles.We are therefore concerned that companies with a record in human rights violations are being allowed, once again, to sponsor your event and align its image with your noble aim of achieving “global access to health” and with the image of the organizing institutions.
As a public-interest NGO, we are concerned that in the globalized neoliberal world of today, the boundaries between people-centered public health policy making and the role of the industry in health have become increasingly unclear, bringing about conflicts of interest situations and resulting in outcomes which often favor profit rather than people’s interest.
Since some of the major causes of chronic conditions, such as obesity or diabetes, are driven by unhealthy diets, we are concerned to see food companies invited to provide sponsorship to the GHF and host its symposiums, that address these non-communicable diseases. Similarly, pharmaceutical companies also carry strong risks of conflicts of interests, as their interest in technology-based solutions to non-communicable diseases, contrasts with and may contribute to shifting of attention away from the urgent need to address the social determinants of health such as the distribution of money, power and resources and global health inequalities. The involvement of these companies not only creates situations of conflicts of interests but risks downplaying the credibility of an important event and compromising its outcomes.
We hope that you will seriously consider the concerns addressed in our present and previous letter and that this communication will contribute to strengthening of the GHF conflicts of interest safeguards.
International Baby Food Action Network - Geneva Infant Feeding Association