Trust WHO

A damning investigation into the World Health Organisation's hidden practices

Trust WHO The World Health Organization (WHO) was founded with the aim of building a healthier future for people all over the world. Whether it’s the effects of smoking, the Swine flu pandemic or a nuclear disaster, the WHO is the body we rely on to advise on and resolve a public health crisis. But can it be trusted? TrustWho documents filmmaker Lilian Franck’s quest to discover what lies behind the altruistic façade of the world’s largest public health body. What she uncovers is an alarming picture of corruption and opacity. This powerful investigative doc shines a light on how industry lobbies have infiltrated the WHO and asks whether the organisation can be trusted to keep the public healthy.

Journalist Lilian Franck has been trying to secure an interview with WHO Director-General Margaret for several months without any luck. The last time she tried, she was told that “no one can promise you an interview with Dr. Chan because she really prefers other to speak… nothing can be guaranteed.” Franck wants to talk to WHO officials about the organisation’s links to the pharmaceutical industry and the nuclear power and tobacco lobbies. Yet again and again she is thwarted by internal bureaucracy and seemingly deliberate obstruction.

The WHO was set up to coordinate international efforts to safeguard human health. Yet Franck suspects that its reliance on private and industry funding might jeopardise its ability to do this. Her suspicions were piqued when, in 2009, Margaret Chan warned that the world was on the brink of a major pandemic: the H1N1 flu virus. Yet no pandemic materialised. According to German Velasquez, who was WHO General Secretary in the Department of Public Health, Intellectual Property and Medication in 2009, few in the WHO were concerned about swine flu. “Nobody there was afraid. I didn't know anyone at the WHO who had himself vaccinated.”

So why did they issue such a stark warning? For Wolfgang Wodarg, a doctor and politician for the German SPD, the pandemic was invented by WHO to service the interests of pharmaceutical companies. “Glaxo, Novartis, Sanofi...They had all launched new production programs to produce the vaccine for this pandemic… And since they had invested so much in this but couldn't sell the vaccine because there was no pandemic, and no sign of a flu outbreak – they fabricated a pandemic.”

This apparent conflict of interests extends to the nuclear and tobacco lobbies. Radiation biologist Ian Fairlie believes that the IAEA, a major nuclear power lobbying group, pressurizes the WHO to remain quiet on the effects of radiation to public health. “They are the ones who rule the roost, who dictate the agenda.”

The WHO's Director of the Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases Douglas Bettcher is a fiery adversary of the tobacco industry, claiming that, “the tobacco industry is our (WHO’s) number one enemy”. Yet journalist Thomas Zeltner suspects the picture is more complex. “The tobacco industry founded institutes and bought scientists who would represent their position.” Zeltner believes that the overwhelming evidence, shows “that tobacco companies had operated for many years with the deliberate purpose of subverting the efforts of WHO to control tobacco.”

Confronting WHO officials with these revelations, Franck is met with reactions ranging from denial to derision: during an interview with Albert Osterhaus, a virologist consultant with WHO, Osterhaus simply walked out after being asked about a potential conflict of interest. “For me it‘s over.” Osterhaus's reaction was depressingly familiar to Franck, who is constantly frustrated by institutional opacity and a lack of cooperation from WHO staff: “Without any facts, without transparency, I can't make any progress here.”

The Producers

Lilian Franck - Director

Lilian Franck has been working as a director and producer for over 15 years. Having been frustrated in her youth by the limitations to communicating via words alone, the medium of film fascinates her and has led her to develop her own 'film language'. Thanks to her intuition for stories, Lilian has achieved international success with her feature films. Her film Pianomania has been screened in over 25 countries and has received numerous awards, including Main Prize of the Semaine de la Critique Locarno, German Film Award for best sound design, and a Golden Gate Award in San Francisco.

Making The Film

Director's Statement

I hope my daughter will inherit a healthy world. As a filmmaker I specialise in health topics, but in the course of working on TrustWHO, I realised that this movie was going far beyond health alone. It shows how the industry today increasingly takes control. And that costs lives. Thanks to many years of research, we achieved in-depth discussions with many WHO officials. Their statements present an interesting comparison to those of whistle blowers. Because it was important to me to draw a profound, differentiated picture, the interviewees communicate not only about words, but their gestures and facial expressions reveals much more. I think it's important to have access to objective information. For me, to form an opinion, I have to know its origin. Since I became a mother, this need has intensified.

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