WHO chief says report exonerates agency on flu handling

28th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

World health chief Margaret Chan on Monday welcomed the first results of a probe into the global handling of the swine flu pandemic in 2009-2010, claiming it had exonerated the agency on two key counts.

The director general of the World Health Organisation told the review committee that she felt its assessment had needed to give a firm answer on "two absolutely critical questions."

"First, did WHO make the right call? Was this a real pandemic or not?" Chan said.

"Second, were WHO decisions, advice, and actions shaped in any way by ties with the pharmaceutical industry? In other words, did WHO declare a fake pandemic in order to line the pockets of industry?"

"The document exonerates WHO on both counts," she said.

In their preliminary report released on March 10, the independent experts appointed by the UN health agency said it had failed to issue timely guidance during the pandemic and that its flu response and alert plans needed revision.

However, they rejected claims that the WHO was influenced by commercial interests in its decision to declare a pandemic and order vaccine supplies, even though it criticised the robustness of the procedures for disclosing conflicts of interest among its medical advisors.

The report also delivered a broader warning to the world about preparations and the shortage of resources countries can mobilise against a flu pandemic.

Chan acknowledged that the WHO needed to manage potential conflicts of interest much better. "We are already doing so," she added.

"WHO welcomes the preview document, its conclusions, and its recommendations. We will do our utmost to implement them," she said.

"But let me be very frank. Some of your recommendations will be far easier to implement than others," Chan added, notably those linked to problems with the international system including a lack of harmonised medical standards.

A(H1N1) swine flu killed at least 18,449 people and affected some 214 countries and territories after it was uncovered in Mexico and the United States in April 2009.

The quick spread of the infectious new strain wordwide prompted the UN health agency to declare a pandemic on June 11, 2009 until August 10, 2010.

But the response was marred by doubts about the severity of the virus.

© 2011 AFP

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