WHO Says It’s Exonerated on Flu Handling

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

The director general of the World Health Organisation told the review committee this week 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.

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