WHO denies industry influence on pandemic response

January 29, 2010
Erik Greb

See Erik Greb's bio page.

Pharmaceutical Technology Europe

The World Health Organization?s (WHO) response to the H1N1 pandemic was not improperly influenced by the pharmaceutical industry, Keiji Fukuda, special adviser on pandemic influenza to the WHO?s Director General, explained at a hearing held by the Council of Europe to address concerns over the WHO?s reaction to the pandemic.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) response to the H1N1 pandemic was not improperly influenced by the pharmaceutical industry, Keiji Fukuda, special adviser on pandemic influenza to the WHO’s Director General, explained at a hearing held by the Council of Europe to address concerns over the WHO’s reaction to the pandemic.

During the hearing, the European Vaccine Manufacturers group rejected claims that vaccine producers had behaved inappropriately during the response to H1N1 influenza. The group said that vaccine manufacturers had responded to the requirements of public-health authorities and national governments.

Fukuda said that cooperation with various partners, including some from the private sector, is essential to the WHO's ability to address public-health challenges. He said that the organization uses various safeguards to manage real or perceived conflicts of interest among members of WHO advisory groups and expert committees. Fukuda noted that experts declare their financial and professional interests to the WHO as one safeguard. He stressed that WHO takes allegations of conflicts of interest seriously and expressed his confidence in the scientific validity of the body’s decision-making during the influenza pandemic.

During his closing remarks, Fukuda said that the influenza pandemic was a “scientifically well-documented event in which the emergence and spread of a new influenza virus has caused an unusual epidemiological pattern of disease throughout the world.” The WHO did not declare a pandemic arbitrarily or for polemical purposes, he added. “The labeling of the pandemic as ‘fake’ is to ignore recent history and science and to trivialize the deaths of over 14,000 people and the many additional serious illnesses experienced by others,” he said.

The WHO’s 2009 pandemic-preparedness plan was an updated version of its first such document, which the organization drafted in 1999. Stressing the effort the WHO put into the plan, Fukuda said that the plan included contributions from more than 135 public-health scientists from 48 countries. A request for public comments on the draft document yielded more than 600 replies.

The WHO received its first reports of H1N1 in April 2009 and conducted laboratory testing on the virus. WHO did not announce the start of a pandemic until June 2009, after the virus had met its updated pandemic criteria.

Acknowledging questions about the WHO’s performance, Fukuda said at a press conference held earlier this month that the organization would be conducting a self-review. He said that the WHO had acted under International Health Regulations, which call for an evaluation of how well the regulations have been implemented. “WHO will use this opportunity to begin an evaluation of its own performance,” Fukuda said.

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