Recently the term ‘Wego Health Activist’ has been mentioned frequently in the Fluoroquinolone (FQ) community, as several individuals have sought recognition awards from Wego Health Solutions. On the surface this seems like a very good thing, after all Wego Health says it recognizes individuals who advocate for health communities worldwide. The FQ community however, is unique from most other health communities as our condition was brought on or exacerbated by a class of pharmaceuticals, not of true organic (non-drug) origin. Being naturally a skeptic and often cautious about what I support, I decided to take a look at Wego Health to see if it’s goals were in line with the goals of the FQ community.
Wego Health is described as “WEGO Health is first online home for consumer Health Activists, social media’s most active 10 percent, passionate about helping others lead healthier lives. Health activists – organizers, connectors, leaders and contributors – meet at WEGO Health, then carry knowledge, content and relationships back to the health social Web. In addition, WEGO Health’s Activist Social Network is the trusted community liaison to pharmaceutical and health marketers, familiar with professional key opinion leader programs. Marketers engage the Activist Social Network through innovative sponsorships, industry advisory panels, collaborative content development, widget distribution and more. Founded in 2007 and led by online health pioneers Jack Barrette and Bob Brooks, WEGO Health gives consumer Health Activists a voice to industry, and helps the world’s top health and pharmaceutical brands support, navigate, and participate in the evolving world of health social media.”
According to Barry Dalton the Senior Vice President of Multi-Channel Customer Engagement at Telerx.com (a customer relations firm), when Wego Health saw that Pharmaceutical companies were only using social media at about 62% to engage society they saw it as a clear signal of a big opportunity.(2) “Now patients who see pharma information online by someone they view as influential (meaning Wego Health) will likely ask their doctor about this information.”, Dalton writes.
WEGO Health recruits activists under the appearance of patient safety and activism. WEGO health employs a novel social strategy that allows pharmaceutical companies the ability to ultimately market drugs to patients.
Does Wego Health employ ex-pharmaceutical company executives that have connections to Fluoroquinolones? Yes.
Bob Brooks executive Vice President of Wego Health was the Director of Integrated Marketing and Media Solutions at GlaxoSmithKline (3). GlaxoSmithKline, sells Levofloxacin under the name Levoxacin, in Italy (4).
Todd Kolm, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Insights for WEGO Health was formerly the Vice President and Head of Global Digital Strategy for Sanofi Pharmaceuticals Inc. (5), a manufacturer of a fluoroquinolone (6). In addition, Sanofi-Aventis sells levofloxacin under the brand Tavanic in Europe (7)(8).
Does Wego sponsor events attended by pharmaceutical companies that make and sell Fluoroquinolones? Yes.
Wego Health produces a yearly event called Socialpalooza which brings together four main groups—“pharma and health company execs, health digital consultants and agency leaders, entrepreneurs from patient-centric startup companies, and online health influencers.” At the 2013 Socialpalooza, held in Boston, several top pharmaceutical companies were “charged with generating ideas for new companies that engage with online health influencers.” Pharmaceuticals companies were not only attending Wego’s event, they were integral in sponsoring activities within the conference. These companies were the “likes of Johnson & Johnson, EMD Serono and Novartis.”(9) Novartis openly sponsors certain pages on Wego Health (10).
A primary purpose of WEGO Health is social marketing for pharmaceutical companies. Melissa Barnhart, WEGO Health Vice President, “works to connect leading pharmaceutical and health companies with WEGO Health’s network of online health activists…”(11). WEGO health is using health activists to reach patients that may otherwise be unreachable.
Although the FQ community shares many similarities with other internet health communities, we also diverge in many areas as well. Many health communities seek greater access to cheaper pharmaceuticals and pharmaceutical information. This is a double edged sword for the FQ community. Our plight was brought about by a class of pharmaceuticals, that was re-enforced by questionable scientific data from pharmaceutical companies who ignore patient complaints, and lobbyist dictated policies at the inept FDA.
Wego Health is a large social organization with many activists and communities represented. By participating in WEGO Health, some health activists may, for example, help Johnson & Johnson encourage patients to take Levaquin. By participating in WEGO Health, health activists may, for example, help other drug companies encourage patients to take generic Fluoroquinolones. This is in complete opposition to everything we in the FQ community has worked so hard to do—stop people from taking fluoroquinolones!
Since being made aware of this situation I have spoken to a few people from the FQ community who were initially supporting of Wego Health but have since pulled their support because of the clear contradiction. They would never intentionally support a company, openly or tacitly, that in-turn supports drug companies that manufacture and/or market both name brand and generic Fluoroquinolones.
My questions are these; do we as an FQ community, embrace Wego Health? Do we welcome an organization into our midst that; employs former pharmaceutical execs? Sponsors events attended by pharmaceutical companies? Most of which have connections to Fluoroquinolones? And finally, do we support those who pursue award recognition from Wego Health?
My answer is NO, I cannot! Where do you stand?