WHO head defends management of swine flu pandemic

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The head of the World Health Organization on Tuesday defended the agency's handling of the swine flu pandemic, rejecting a top medical journal claims that it was marred by commercial interests.

"At no time, not for one second, did commercial interests enter my decision-making," said Margaret Chan, WHO director-general, in a letter sent to the British Medical Journal, following the publication's article.

The BMJ had said in a report last week that the WHO's actions on the pandemic was deeply marred by secrecy and conflicts of interest with drug companies for some experts advising the agency.

The report also revealed that at least one member of the secret, 16-member "emergency committee" formed last year to advise the WHO on whether and when to declare a pandemic received payment during 2009 from drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline.

Chan said that the names of the emergency committee had been kept secret in order to "protect the experts from commercial or other influences" and not to withhold information about their deliberations.

She also challenged the journal's claim that the WHO provoked unjustified fear about the pandemic.

"The record is otherwise, and not a matter of interpretation," said Chan, pointing to her announcement when declaring the pandemic that the worldwide fatality rate was low.

"I take issue with the assumption that WHO simply dismisses these hard questions as unfounded," she said, pointing out that a committee had been set up to examine the agency's handling of the pandemic.

Harvey Fineberg, chairman of the WHO's committee of external experts reviewing the handling of the pandemic, on Monday welcomed the BMJ's report and said it would be "fully considered by our Review Committee."

The committee is due to release its findings by the beginning of 2011.

© 2010 AFP

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