In 2021 the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA) wrote a letter to the CEO of the newly formed WHO Foundation, formed to enhance funding of the World Health Organization. GAPA expressed concerns about the WHO Foundation’s gift acceptance policy. Recently Rob Ralston and colleagues published a critical analysis of policy documents related to the WHO Foundation, highlighting a drift in the accountability practices of the Foundation.

The communication between GAPA and the WHO Foundation is included below.

The WHO Foundation Gift acceptance policy has also been subject for research and a commentary in scientific journals.

GAPA letter to WHO Foundation CEO Anil Soni 27 April 2021

In the outset GAPA commended that the WHO Foundation was set up as a grant-making foundation to support WHO’s mission and noted with appreciation that the WHO Foundation’s Gift Acceptance Policy included alcohol in the ‘Red flag’ category. However, alcohol soon moved to the orange category. In the first letter, GAPA inquired about this change.

WHO Foundation reply 15 September 2021

In a reply to GAPA Mr Soni explained that “a version of WHOF’s working Gift Acceptance Policy published earlier this year erroneously and inconsistently referred to the Alcohol industry. This has now been corrected. The correction was not a change in policy, and the policy will continue to reflect the agreement between WHO and WHOF as well as FENSA.”

GAPA answer to WHO Foundation 4 January 2022

In a reply letter GAPA expressed that “concern remains that WHOF’s current Gift Acceptance Policy, with the absence of a non-engagement clause for alcohol industry and because of weaknesses within FENSA, exposes WHO to influence by the alcohol industry.” The letter pointed out that WHO policy explicitly precludes funding by the alcohol industry; the alcohol industry is a close ally of the tobacco industry; transparency is essential for accountability; and that further safeguards against conflicts of interest are needed. GAPA raised concerns; asked questions and made requests to the WHO Foundation, but no further reply was received.

Journal publications about the WHO Foundation

In May 2022 BMJ Global Health published a commentary by June Yue Yan Leung and Sally Casswell, The WHO Foundation should not accept donations from the alcohol industry. The commentary pointed out that WHO needs further resources to implement stronger safeguards against alcohol industry interference, and linked this to the WHO Global Alcohol Action Plan that was under development and later adopted at the World Health Assembly in 2022.

The recent article by Rob Ralston, Tracey Wagner-Rizvi, May CI. van Schalkwyk, Nason Maani, and Jeff Collin, The WHO Foundation in global health governance: Depoliticizing corporate philanthropy, in Social Science & Medicine analyses WHO Foundation’s role in Global Health and points out that WHOF is a novelty attempting to address the long running financial constraints of WHO. The challenges to accountability and transparency are underlined. The researchers “demonstrate how due diligence and transparency practices within the Foundation have been redesigned in ways that contradict or subvert its claims to applying alignment with WHO’s governance norms, notably relating to its engagement with health harming industries such as alcohol and petrochemical companies.”