Keep the Public in Public Health

Russell Mokhiber 

and Robert Weissman


great thing about the American Public Health Association (APHA) is in its name

– it’s about public health — what we as a society do to assure the conditions

in which people can be healthy.


we were to choose a steward for the public health, we would, without hesitation,

choose the APHA over, say, the American Medical Association (AMA).


one sad example in 1997, the AMA cut a deal to endorse Sunbeam medical products

in return for royalty payments in the millions. This policy seemed to say,

"Not only are we in favor of turning health care over to for-profit

corporations, we are in favor of turning our organization over to for-profit

corporations." (Following a huge public outcry, that deal was eventually

rescinded and the AMA vice president who cut the deal resigned in disgrace.)


it is the APHA which stands for public health.


were thinking about this the other day, walking past APHA’s gorgeous new $13

million headquarters building in the Chinatown section of Washington, D.C. We

went into the lobby, said hello to the staff, and picked up the annual report.


we learned that earlier this year, the APHA accepted a $1 million grant from

Colgate Palmolive, that consumer giant that brings you Colgate toothpaste, Irish

Spring soap, Palmolive dishwashing soap, Speed Stick deodorant.


to the annual report, the money was used, in part, to launch a national public

health education campaign, "Lather Up for Good Health." Under the

campaign, APHA and Colgate Palmolive distributed 100,000 "handwashing



a press conference in Washington, D.C. last week, we ran into Mohammed Akhter,

APHA’s executive director.


wanted to know what he thought Colgate Palmolive’s interest was in donating

$200,000 a year over five years.


do not accept money with any strings attached," Akhter said. "They

gave us the money to do education about maternal-child health."


they get nothing directly," Akhter said. "They gave us the money to do

education about maternal-child health. So, one interest is goodwill — the

company gets on the good side of mothers and children. And through this they

sell more of their products — toothpaste, soaps and such."


he concerned about undue influence of a giant private corporation over an

organization designed to promote "public" health?


is America," Akhter said. "America’s whole structure is built on

business. But we say that if there are funds that come to us from a corporation

that has a bad environmental record, has poor public health practices, poor

occupational practices, poor labor practices, we will not accept the money. Or

if there is a string attached, we will not accept the money. If someone tells

me, ‘Sell my sugar and I will give you a million dollars,’ I will say no."


said that he was approached recently by GlaxoWellcome. The multinational

pharmaceutical giant wanted to donate $100,000 a year for two or three years.


said that Glaxo’s involvement with the drug industry’s efforts to block

widespread use of HIV/AIDS drugs in the Third World eliminated the company from

consideration. "We said we will not do this," Akhter said. "Don’t

come to us looking for support for this drug issue."


said that Eli Lilly has given $30,000 or so a year for a number of years. And

Merck donates the bags to carry the programs and other materials for APHA’s

30,000 members at its annual convention.


members of APHA are concerned about the organization’s upcoming first ever fund

raising campaign to help pay for the building and APHA’s $12 million a year



Goldsmith, professor of health policy at SUNY Stonybrook, is a former APHA

executive board member. Goldsmith believes that APHA should build the

organization, not by raking in corporate dollars, but by aggressively pushing a

public health agenda and bringing in new members.


not opposed to getting five or ten thousand from companies who are involved in

health care as nutritional organizations, or as food organizations, or insurance

companies," he told us. "But when you start talking about hundreds of

thousands of dollars or millions, then that becomes a big chunk of the budget

and that becomes a problem. You start relying on that money. And APHA executive

board members, well-meaning public health people who are worried about the

survival of their organization, will be swayed to take the money and take the

organization in a direction away from public health."


said that he heard from "less than 2 percent of the membership" after

news of the Colgate Palmolive $1 million grant broke telling him, "be



said, ‘We don’t want the money.’ They said, ‘Be careful. APHA is not for



we are concerned that by accepting the $1 million from Colgate Palmolive, the

message has been sent: if not for sale, then for rent.


Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter.

Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor.

They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the

Attack on Democracy (Common Courage Press, 1999, http://www.corporatepredators.org).





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