Past COP events have occasionally been somewhat embarrassing for the WHO. Could COP10 follow this trend?
Who can forget when an outbreak of Ebola in Africa in the run-up to COP6 in 2014 presented then WHO Director General, Margaret Chan, with a dilemma? Should she travel to Africa, where a lethal disease was brutally killing citizens, or to the COP6 Moscow venue to chat about tobacco over tea with Vladimir Putin? She chose the latter, naturally.
Or COP7 in New Delhi where delegates from all over the world convened to discuss exaggerated health threats from vaping just as one of the worst smogs in living memory descended on the city. The New York Times reported that over 1,800 schools were closed and the public exposed to pollution equivalent to smoking 40 cigarettes a day, as if to remind the WHO what a real public health crisis looks like on the eve of their flagship tobacco control event.
The last Copwatch post reported on Dr. Reina Roa, who has accepted an award from Bloomberg Philanthropies and is now being investigated by Panamanian authorities for “administrative irregularities” over what is a clear conflict of interest in her role as an “independent” adviser to the Ministry of Health.
Dr. Roa would appear to be an odd choice for an independent adviser considering she has been a Ministry of Health employee since 1986, with latest filings showing she is paid $4,294 per month, roughly five times the average Panamanian salary.
As well as being feted by Bloomberg acolytes, Dr. Roa is extremely close to the WHO, having led ratification of the FCTC treaty and having served as Representative at the FCTC Bureau Conference of the Parties for the Americas Region (AMRO). She is also so embedded in the Panamanian establishment that her former husband was one of the closest advisers to notorious Panama dictator, Manuel Noriega (see below).
Surprising as it is that she was appointed to the role, the perceived bias that acceptance of a Bloomberg award would suggest may not have worked out very well for the enemies of harm reduction. The investigation of Dr. Roa seems to have opened up a wider debate.
All alternative nicotine products are currently prohibited in Panama but this is now being revisited. According to the gloriously-named Mr Cigarruista, of the Association for the Reduction of Harm from Smoking in Panama, a bill has been presented to the National Assembly that proposes regulating vaping products to replace the current ban.
The November jamboree is fast approaching and delegates are starting to book their accommodation for a COP10 meeting which carries many threats for vaping and other harm reduction products. The WHO’s FCTC Secretariat has been working hard to guide delegations into agreeing decisions at COP10 to ban or heavily restrict reduced risk nicotine products all over the world. It will be somewhat embarrassing for the WHO if, at the same time, their host country is discussing proposals to implement common sense over vaping products and reverse prohibition.
How unfortunate that would be for the WHO. Our hearts bleed for them.