WHO Addresses Handling Of H1N1 At Council Of Europe Meeting

During a Council of Europe meeting on Tuesday to address the WHO’s handling of the H1N1 virus, the WHO said it had not “fallen under the sway of drugs firms and exaggerated the dangers of the H1N1 flu virus, but said it might have handled the crisis better,” Reuters reports. “Critics say the WHO relied too much on advice from advisers in the pay of the pharmaceutical industry, triggering an internal review by the WHO and an inquiry by the Council of Europe, a pan European human rights watchdog,” writes the news service (Reilhac, 1/26).

At the council meeting, Keiji Fukuda, special adviser on pandemic influenza to the director-general of WHO, defended the agency’s response to H1N1, pointing out that “the WHO consulted with a range of experts, including those in the private sector, but that there were safeguards in place to prevent conflicts of interest,” Deutsche Welle writes.

“These individuals are known to us and their participation in various WHO committees was looked at and we have not found anything inappropriate about what they did,” Fukuda said. “The experts out there – the ones who really understand and who have knowledge – they may work with many different groups, including with industry. That link may mean that they provide advice which is inappropriate. It may not mean that they provide advice which is inappropriate” (Foulkes, 1/27).

“We are under no illusions that this response was the perfect response,” Fukuda said during the hearing, the BBC reports. “But we do not wait until (these global virus outbreaks) have developed and we see that lots of people are dying. What we try and do is take preventive actions. If we are successful no-one will die, no-one will notice anything” (1/26).

CIDRAP reports on some of the criticisms voiced by health officials during the Council of Europe meeting and Fukuda’s assurance that the organization would work to improve transparency during the pandemic response in the future (Schnirring, 1/26).

Administration’s Response To H1N1 One Indicator U.S. Not Prepared For Biological Attack, Report Says

Also on Tuesday, “the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation gave the Obama administration a failing grade for its efforts to prepare for and respond to a biological attack, such as the release of deadly viruses or bacteria,” pointing to U.S. efforts to provide H1N1 vaccines and treatments as one indicator that “the country is not positioned to respond to something more serious,” the Associated Press/TIME reports (Dalziel, 1/26).

CNN writes, “H1N1 came with months of warning,” according to the commission report. “But even with time to prepare, the epidemic peaked before most Americans had access to vaccine. A bioattack will come with no such warning.” CNN notes that “Congress took its lumps in the report as well” (1/26).

Novartis Chief Executive Warns Countries’ Canceling H1N1 Orders

Chairman and chief executive of the drugmaker Novartis Daniel Vasella on Tuesday warned that governments now caneling H1N1 vaccine orders would likely be treated differently in future pandemic situations, Agence France-Presse reports. “The same governments that exerted a lot of pressure on the industry (…) to deliver vaccines very quickly were the same governments that then said ‘we don’t want any more what we ordered’, once they saw they ordered too much,” Vasella said. “If you want an effective vaccine industry you have to be consequent, because the next time that there will be a pandemic – and there will be another one – the governments who have been reliable partners will be treated preferentially” (1/26).

In related news, BusinessDay/allAfrica.com reports the South African Department of Health has placed an order for 1.3 million doses of H1N1 vaccine, with the first batches scheduled to arrive as early as February. The Health Department says it will begin vaccinating people in high-priority groups in March (Kahn, 1/27).

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