HHS Secretary Sebelius Discusses Polio Eradication, Maintaining Smallpox Virus Stocks At World Health Assembly

In a press briefing on the sidelines of the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius on Tuesday “cited two major issues for the U.S.: the eradication of polio, as concerns remain in countries where the disease is endemic, such as Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan, with outbreaks in other nations, and maintaining the stocks of smallpox virus, which has already been eradicated,” Intellectual Property Watch reports. Sebelius also “expressed her support for [WHO Director-General Margaret] Chan’s work to date, and signalled U.S. support for her candidacy for election as head of the WHO next year,” according to the article. She also responded to “a question about the possibility of undue influence on WHO strategy of some donors.”

The article also reports that “Nils Daulaire, director of the HHS Office of Global Affairs, and the U.S. representative to the WHO Executive Board, said at the briefing that global health security depends on the objectivity and independence of WHO, and the U.S. strongly supports Chan in her effort to look broadly at reforms of the organisation in the context of financial challenge. The director general’s reforms look at engaging a broader range of stakeholders, he said” (Saez, 5/17). 

An HHS press release includes Sebelius’ remarks prepared for the press conference (5/17).

Dow Jones/NASDAQ notes that Corporate Accountability International, a civil society group representing 100 organizations from 24 countries, this week sent a letter to Chan “to raise concerns that the U.N.’s links to companies such as Nestle SA and Coca Cola Co. are leading to conflicts of interest and compromising the international body’s independence.” The letter urged Chan “to ask U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to establish safeguards to prevent corporate conflicts of interest” (Revill, 5/18). 

Meanwhile at the meeting, a panel of 25 international flu experts spoke about their conclusions that the world is not prepared for a global public health emergency based on the response to the 2009 outbreak of H1N1 (swine) flu, according to the Associated Press. The panel’s report, released in draft form earlier this year, “said the WHO did some things well during the pandemic and fell short in other areas, but there was ‘no evidence’ of malfeasance,” the news agency reports (5/19).

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