WHO May Have Overrated H1N1 Pandemic

ePT--the Electronic Newsletter of Pharmaceutical Technology

The handling of the H1N1 pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), EU agencies and national governments led to a "waste of large sums of public money, and unjustified scares and fears about the health risks faced by the European public", according to a report released by the Council of Europe.

The handling of the H1N1 pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), European Union agencies, and national governments led to a “waste of large sums of public money, and unjustified scares and fears about the health risks faced by the European public,” according to a report released by the Council of Europe. The report, prepared by Paul Flynn, a member of the UK Parliament, identified evidence that the WHO had “vastly overrated” the seriousness of the situation, ultimately resulting in a distortion of public health priorities.

“This is a pandemic that never really was,” said Flynn when presenting the report to the Social, Health, and Family Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, according to a press release about the report.

The report is another blow to WHO, which has been subject to a number of reviews and inquiries following its handling of the pandemic, which was declared on June 11, 2009. One of Flynn’s particular concerns regarding the handling of the pandemic was the lack of transparency of WHO’s decision-making processes and the possible influence of the pharmaceutical industry on some key decisions. This issue was also raised by a report released this month in collaboration with the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. According to the BMJ/Bureau report, some experts advising WHO had served as paid consultants to manufacturers of influenza drugs and vaccines. For instance, the report claims that key WHO guidance was authored by an influenza expert who had received payment for other work from Hoffman-La Roche (Basel) and GlaxoSmithKline (London), who manufacture Tamiflu and Relenza, respectively.

The BMJ/Bureau report concludes that the current system is “struggling to manage the inherent conflict between the pharmaceutical industry, WHO, and the global public health system,” and stresses that although planning for the worst is a sensible approach, there are “damaging issues” that must be addressed.

Both reports believe that there should be greater transparency and better governance in public health, and both highlight the importance of rebuilding public confidence in health decisions taken by WHO and European and national authorities. The Council of Europe’s report includes a number of recommendations, including the “urgent” need for a thorough review of decisions taken by public health authorities during the H1N1 pandemic.