WHO Declares Flu Pandemic Over; Experts Behind Response RevealedPublished on 10 August 2010 @ 8:31 pm
By Kaitlin Mara, Intellectual Property Watch
The pandemic threat of the H1N1 or “swine flu” virus has now passed, World Health Organization Director General Margaret Chan announced today.
[Update: the list of names of Emergency Committee members, responsible for declaring the pandemic, is now online. It is available here.The committee consists of 15 experts and one advisor. The list shows declarations of interest from six members of the committee. The declarations include past consultancies or contract research for pharmaceutical companies, and financial support from pharmaceutical lobby groups or companies.
None of the declarations "give rise to a conflict of interest such that the experts concerned should be partially or totally excluded from participation in the Emergency Committee," the WHO list says, but other members of the committee were made aware of the declarations per WHO policy. The committee has broad geographic representation, with 8 experts from developed countries and the remainder from larger developing countries.]
The virus has largely run its course, said Chan, though she added that WHO continues to recommend the use of remaining pandemic vaccines as their efficacy has not decreased.
The announced closing of the pandemic period means that the names of the WHO’s Emergency Committee, which decided when to declare the pandemic and when it could be considered ended, are now public [updated].
According to a 10 August report of the International Health Regulations, under which the WHO’s pandemic response fell, the Emergency Committee will also be releasing the affiliations and “declared interests” of the committee members. This should help answer some of the more critical questions being asked in a review of the WHO’s influenza response, such as whether conflicts of interest within the body’s expert advisory group led to an exaggeration of the risks of the H1N1 virus (IPW, WHO, 7 July 2010). It has been suggested that these conflicts of interest arose from connections to the brand-name pharmaceutical industry.
Chan at today’s press briefing said that WHO had been clear from the beginning that H1N1 was a virus with only “moderate severity” from which most people would recover without treatment, which is backed up by her statements from June of 2009.
However, she acknowledged that there was “wide agreement among experts” that the WHO’s six pandemic phases (which measure increasing threat level of influenza viruses) should be reviewed, in particular the issue of severity as part of the definition of a pandemic threat. The definition of a pandemic is one of the areas for which the WHO has come under fire.
Kaitlin Mara may be reached at email@example.com.