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Why confidentiality agreements should be added to conflict of interest statements

Carl Heneghan
Last edited 6th June 2010

A confidentiality agreement, also known as a non disclosure agreement is a legally binding contract between two parties who wish to share information with one another, but wish to restrict access to others. Basically keep it a secret. They are used by companies when they are undertaking a potential business relationship. Some of these agreements are signed with employees or paid consultants, restricting the use of material and confidential information. In some circumstances the existence of such an agreement cannot be disclosed at all.

Some of you may have never even heard of such agreements or considered them important. However, in the last few years I’ve had numerous organizations approach me, mainly with regard to monitoring and diagnostic technologies. And even before talking, they want you to sign one of these confidentiality agreements or NDAs (non- disclosure agreement) as they are known in the trade.

To this, I have a perfectly simple answer. ‘If you want perfect confidentiality, then let’s not meet. Otherwise, if you want to keep it confidential then don’t mention it, but I won’t be signing any agreement now or in the future.’

So, when this week we find out from Fiona Godlee at the Council of Europe that:
‘Also worrying is the existence of a secret "emergency committee" which took key decisions relating to the pandemic: first the decision to downgrade the definition of pandemic in May 2009, and then to announce the pandemic one month later, triggering pre-established vaccine contracts around the world.’

Deborah Cohen’s investigative work on the WHO and the pandemic flu "conspiracies"
‘And why does the composition of the emergency committee from which Chan sought guidance remain a secret known only to those within WHO? We are left wondering whether major public health organisations are able to effectively manage the conflicts of interest that are inherent in medical science.’

Recently I gave a talk, and realized I was the only person not being paid in the room, and in doing so, was the only person who hadn’t signed up to a 5 year NDA.

Therefore, it is highly likely anyone who has a conflict of interest has signed an NDA previously, and has a major bias. As of now this should be added to journal submissions as part of the conflict of interest statement and be disclosed by public committee that set our health policies – In fact, if you’ve signed one of these you shouldn’t be allowed on the committees in the first place.

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