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WHO H1N1 Response Probe’s Second Meeting Highlights Divergent Views

The independent team of health experts responsible for reviewing the WHO’s response to H1N1 (swine flu) wrapped up a second round of public hearings on Friday, “during which members heard testimony from widely divergent groups, from health officials to some of its most public critics,” CIDRAP News reports. The review committee, “which is also tasked with assessing how the International Health Regulations (IHRs) functioned,” heard testimony from national health officials, pharmaceutical industry representatives, and members of the media, the news service writes.

Following the meeting, Harvey Fineberg, chairman of the review committee, “said he was struck by the chasm between the perceptions from health officials that the pandemic response worked well and the strong criticism from others who testified,” according to CIDRAP News (Schnirring, 7/2).

Agence France-Presse, also reporting on the review meeting, contrasts the differing views on the WHO’s response to H1N1: “European parliamentarians last week found ‘grave shortcoming’ in WHO transparency and expressed concerns about the influence of the pharmaceutical industry on decision making, especially the need for costly special vaccines.” On the other hand, “During this week’s WHO hearing, French health ministry official Didier Houssin praised the agency’s ‘reactiveness’ while suggesting that it should reinforce the credibility of its experts,” the news service writes (7/3).

One of the most hotly contested issues in the WHO’s response to H1N1 was the characterization of the flu as a pandemic, Fineberg noted, CIDRAP News continues. “Some have accused the WHO of changing the pandemic definition at the start of the pandemic, a charge it has strongly denied” (7/2).

The review committee plans to hold public hearings again in September and November, Fineberg said, according to AFP. “The panel’s findings are due to be released by the beginning of 2011,” the news service adds (7/3).

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