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Health officials vow to continue close collaboration with WHO

Bangkok Post, Thailand

Health officials vow to continue close collaboration with WHO

By Apinya Wipatayotin

21 June 2006

Public health officials working closely with the World Health Organisation yesterday vowed to continue their strong collaboration with the WHO despite widespread reports of possible interference by Washington in the international body’s administrative affairs. The US government was allegedly behind the abrupt removal of William Aldis, the WHO representative to Thailand, after he wrote of possible adverse impacts Thailand could suffer if it went ahead and signed a free trade agreement with the US in its present state.

Sources have confirmed the Asia Times Online’s report that the transfer of Mr Aldis to a research position in New Delhi in March indeed resulted from his article, which urged Thailand to be cautious against signing a bilateral trade pact with Washington.

The opinion piece was published in the Bangkok Post on Jan 9.

Director of the Public Health Ministry’s influenza programme office Praphasri Jongsuksantikul, who has been working closely with the WHO in combatting the bird flu outbreak in Thailand, said she was unaware of the controversy surrounding the removal of Mr Aldis.

’’However, the matter should not disrupt the collaboration between the WHO and Thailand because both parties already have a strong commitment to work together on public health care,’’ said Dr Praphasri.

The new WHO representative to Thailand P.T. Jayawickramarajah, who succeeded Mr Aldis, was pursuing the same WHO policy and helping strengthen Thailand’s scheme on avian influenza outbreak prevention, she said.

’’Rotation of WHO officials happens all the time and local officials are ready to work with any of them,’’ she said.

Food and Drug Administration secretary-general Pakdi Pothisiri, who is in charge of drug issues in the Thai-US FTA negotiations, said the abrupt removal of the WHO representative to Thailand would not affect the FDA’s work, which currently focuses on protecting the country from unfair drug patents that come with bilateral trade pacts.

The FDA chief also called on agencies in charge of FTA talks to take heed of the WHO senior official’s warning about possible adverse impacts of the Thai-US FTA.

The US has yet to issue a statement on its alleged involvement in the controversial transfer of Mr Aldis.

However, a US embassy staff yesterday said the report was groundless as it contained information from only a few sources.