WHO Negotiating With White House About Approval of Scientific Meeting Attendees
A World Health Organization official on Friday said that the group is negotiating with the Bush administration over its policy requiring that a "senior political appointee" approve scientists invited to participate in official scientific review panels, the Los Angeles Times reports. An HHS official in April called for WHO to send requests for scientists to participate in such meetings to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson for review, instead of contacting individual researchers, according to the Times. Traditionally, WHO selects experts to sit on official scientific review panels, the Times reports. In a letter to WHO officials, William Steiger, special assistant to Thompson, wrote, "Except under very limited circumstances, U.S. government experts do not and cannot participate in WHO consultations in their individual capacity," adding that regulations "require HHS experts to serve as representatives of the U.S. government at all times and advocate U.S. government policies." WHO officials have "refused to implement" the agency's request because it could "compromise the independence of scientific deliberations," the Times reports. The HHS request is the most recent action by the administration that some view as "allowing politics to intrude into the once-sacrosanct areas" of scientific deliberation, including appointing industry and political "allies" to advisory panels, among others, according to the Times. However, Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Dr. John Marburger said that such accusations are "wrong and misleading [and] inaccurate." Denis Aitken, WHO assistant director general, said, "It's an important issue for us. We do need independent science. If we want government positions, we have government meetings. We have many, many of these government assemblies, but they address a separate set of concerns" than the scientific review panels(Hamburger, Los Angeles Times, 6/26).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.