WHO slammed for handling of flu pandemic

Updated: Jun 04, 2010, 00:00 AM IST

Paris: The World Health Organisation`s
handling of the swine flu pandemic was deeply marred by
secrecy and conflict of interest with drug companies, a top
medical journal said on Friday.

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that WHO
guidelines on the use of antiviral drugs were prepared by
experts who had received consulting fees from the top two
manufacturers of these drugs, Roche and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

In apparent violation of its own rules, the WHO did not
publicly disclose these conflicts when the guidelines were
drawn up in 2004, according to the report, jointly authored by
the London-based non-profit Bureau of Investigative
Journalism.

A draft assessment prepared for the Council of Europe,
also released today, likewise lambasts the WHO for lack of
transparency, wasting huge sums of public money and provoking
"unjustified fears".

It also points to potential health risks stemming from
the "fast track" manufacture of vaccines.

WHO decisions led governments worldwide to stockpile vast
quantities of antivirals, and its decision to declare a
pandemic in June 2009 triggered the purchase of billion of
dollars worth of hastily manufactured vaccines.

Much of these stocks have gone unused because the
pandemic turned out to be far less lethal than some experts
feared, fueling suspicion that Big Pharma exerted undue
influence on WHO decisions.

The BMJ report also reveals that at least one expert on
the secret, 16-member "emergency committee" formed last year
to advise the WHO on whether and when to declare a pandemic
received payment during 2009 from GSK.

Announcing that swine flu had become a global pandemic
automatically triggered latent contracts for vaccine
manufacture with half-a-dozen major pharmaceutical companies,
including GSK.

PTI