The Bangladesh Office of Telenor Health ASA has recently accepted 74,400 US Dollars as grants from Foundation for Smoke-Free World (FSFW), a pseudo anti-tobacco organization funded by multinational tobacco giant Philip MorrisInternational (PMI). The grantee list of FSFW also includes Telenor Health ASA as a recipient.
A digital healthcare provider, Telenor Health ASA is owned by Telenor, a Norway-based business group which is also the main shareholder (55.80 percent) of Bangladesh’s largest mobile phone company, Grameenphone. Telenor Health and Grameenphone jointly run a digital healthcare service named Tonic. The involvement of such prestigious company with a globally controversial entity, FSFW is quite concerning.
It should be noted that, Foundation for Smoke-Free World (FSFW), founded in 2017 with funds provided by PMI has already caused grave concern among public health and anti-tobacco activists. The Foundation claims that its intention is to reduce the number of smokers to ‘zero’ through so-called ‘innovative ways’. Following the Foundation’s inception, the World Health Organization (WHO) has also released a statement where it argued that any involvement or cooperation with this Foundation poses a grave conflict of interest.
The statement of WHO says, ‘WHO will not partner with the Foundation. Governments should not partner with the Foundation and the public health community should follow this lead.’ In a different statement, the WHO FCTC Secretariat said, ‘Parties to the WHO FCTC should note that any collaboration with this Foundation, due to its current funding arrangement that comes from a tobacco multinational, would constitute a clear breach of Article 5.3 of the Convention concerning tobacco industry interference.’ Despite such explicit warning, the activities of FSFW in Bangladesh has gradually become more and more noticeable in recent years.
A number of countries, including the neighboring India, have taken policy measures to stop any cooperation with this controversial Foundation on a government level.
Unfortunately, Bangladesh is yet to take any such definite measure on this issue. As a signatory of FCTC, Bangladesh should also prevent itself from getting involved in FSFW’s ploy as suggested by WHO and provide necessary and clear directive to its officials and non-government entities in this regard.