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1 February 2010
This article is part of the series Swine Flu.
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Government flu advisors not independent

By Daan de Wit
Translated by Ben Kearney

Ab Osterhaus is playing an important role in the affair surrounding the Swine Flu. Through his influence and conflicts of interest, he personifies a system that is now being subjected to investigation from all directions. Soon the investigators will undoubtedly stumble upon SAGE, the strategic advisory group of vaccine and immunity experts for the World Health Organization, or WHO. Osterhaus turns up here as well - he is an expert with SAGE.

SAGE was established in 1999 to provide guidance to the Director-General of the WHO (now Margaret Chan). SAGE is the most important organization in this arena and advises on five subject areas, among them measles, polio and whooping cough. But they also advise on two other matters: the bird flu and the Swine Flu. Ab Osterhaus is an expert for the two commissions that advise on these flu variants. Regarding both commissions, the WHO notes: 'Only two members reported any interests'. One of those two members is Osterhaus, who has the longest list of interests of anyone with either of the advisory groups.

Yet upon further examination it turns out that other persons involved have ties to the industry. A few examples: 

* One of the advisors for SAGE is Roy Anderson. About a month and a half after Margaret Chan declared the Swine Flu to be a pandemic, he left SAGE after it turned out that he was on the payroll of GlaxoSmithKline, one of the producers of the Swine Flu vaccine.  

* Dr. Frederick Hayden was consulted by SAGE as an expert. As a result of a freedom of information request from the Danish newspaper Information, it's clear [translation] that he also received money from the pharmaceutical companies Roche and GSK. 

* Information also writes about the Finnish Professor Eskola, member of SAGE. Eskola is the director of an institute that does research into vaccines. In 2009 his institute received around six million euros from GlaxoSmithKline, as reported by the Danish journalists Louise Voller and Kristian Villesen. On the recommendation of Eskola's institute and the WHO, the Finnish government procured GSK's Pandemrix to fight the Swine Flu. In the earlier parts of this series you can read extensively about Pandemrix, also procured by the Dutch government.

* Dr. Arnold Monto is an expert for SAGE. He was chairman for the WHO of a conference in August in which experts were consulted about H1N1. Two years earlier he was also chairman at a WHO conference on the possibility of a flu pandemic. But Monto is also a paid advisor for GlaxoSmithKline, Roche, Novartis and Baxter.

By advising the Director-General of the WHO, SAGE has a lot of influence. That influence is only going to increase, as evidenced by future planning for 2015: 'SAGE acts as the technical advisory group on immunisation for WHO, UNICEF and GAVI. - SAGE overarches all WHO’s immunisation committees'.

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