WHO Mishandled H1N1 Pandemic

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Remember how news about the H1N1 swine flu pandemic was the top story every day for weeks and months not so long ago? Remember the scare tactics? Now The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) has endorsed the conclusions of its Health Committee, which stated there is “overwhelming evidence that the seriousness of the pandemic was vastly overrated by WHO” (World Health Organization), which led to a mishandling of public health priorities.

PACE noted that the handling of the H1N1 pandemic by WHO, European Union health agencies, and national governments resulted in a “waste of large sums of public money, and unjustified scares and fears about the health risks,” according to a news release from the Council of Europe.

For some time there has also been great concerns about the influence of the pharmaceutical industry, specifically those that manufactured the H1N1 vaccines, on decisions made about the pandemic and the advice given to the public. PACE parliamentarians voiced concerns that their conclusions and the other controversies surrounding the entire H1N1 affair could prove “disastrous” should a serious pandemic develop in the future because of a lack of public confidence.

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Just prior to PACE’s endorsement of its Health Committee’s conclusions, two members of a review panel that was established to appraise WHO’s handling of the H1N1 pandemic stepped down because they said they had been involved in the response the panel was assessing, according to CBC News. Both men—Australian virologist John MacKenzie and head of aviation medicine at the International Civil Aviation Organization, Dr. Tony Evans—said they will act as expert witnesses if and when needed.

Earlier this year, Harvey Fineberg, head of the Institute of Medicine, announced that he and a 29-member committee were investigating the questionable relationship between WHO and the pharmaceutical industry during the swine flu outbreak. Fineberg said that “The committee is well aware that concerns have been expressed of the potential influence of industry on decision making at various advisory committees and the WHO more generally.”

In February 2010, Dr. Wolfgang Wodarg, the former head of health at the Council for Europe, accused WHO of “faking” the pandemic. “It looks like the WHO is under the influence of industry,” he said at a hearing in Strasbourg. Fineberg was quoted in EarthTimes, saying that if he and his committee discover any wrongdoings by WHO, the “conclusions and recommendations will be a matter of public record.” Results of the review are not expected to be presented until early 2011.

In light of PACE’s conclusion that WHO mishandled the H1N1 pandemic, the Assembly has issued recommendations urging greater transparency and better handling of public health issues, as well as efforts to protect against “undue influence by vested interests.” Along with a request for public monies to support independent research and advice, it has also asked the media to avoid “sensationalism and scaremongering in the public health domain.”

SOURCES:
CBC News, June 23, 2010
Council of Europe press release, June 24, 2010
EarthTimes, May 19, 2010

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