WHA passes pandemic review, tweaks virus-sharing framework

May 20, 2011 (CIDRAP News) – At the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva today, the full group adopted a review of the World Health Organization's (WHO's) performance during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, while a committee made some last-minute changes to a framework for sharing flu viruses.

The pandemic review passed by the plenary group today also assesses how the International Health Regulations (IHRs) functioned during the pandemic, which was their first use during a global public health emergency. The WHO announced the passage of the report on its Twitter feed earlier today.

The independent pandemic review committee issued a draft of its final report in late March. It defended the WHO from accusations that it overstated the pandemic threat and rejected claims that it rushed to declare a pandemic in a move to benefit vaccine makers. The report also included 15 recommendations on how the WHO can improve its future pandemic response.

Gregory Hartl, a WHO spokesman, told CIDRAP News that a WHA committee also adopted an amended resolution to the pandemic virus-sharing agreement, which he said goes to the full group for consideration next week.

According to the resolution draft, available on the WHO's Web site, the amendments included the adoption of the virus-sharing plan's annexes, as well as the main body of the framework. It also asks the WHO director-general to monitor and review the framework's operation and report the progress biennially to the WHA's executive board.

A WHO working group completed its work on the virus-sharing agreement on Apr 16, just in time to present it to the WHA. The agreement is designed to ease the sharing of flu viruses so that virologists can characterize and monitor changes, a key component of pandemic preparation. The framework is also intended to ensure that developing countries have affordable access to drugs, vaccines, and diagnostic tools made from the viruses.

A WHA committee was scheduled to begin discussing the fate of the remaining stocks of smallpox viruses today, but Hartl said the talks are now slated to take place May 23, instead.

In other developments, during yesterday's WHA session, committee delegates approved a plan that cuts nearly $1 billion from the WHO's budget and cuts 300 jobs from its staff, Reuters reported. The budget plan follows a $300 million budget shortfall in 2010. Delegates set the WHO's budget for the next 2 years at $3.96 billion, which is 20% less than the amount originally requested by WHO administrators.

In her address on May 23 on the opening day of the WHA, Director-General Dr Margaret Chan vowed that the agency would undertake a host of financial and management reforms.

A quarter of the WHO's budget is provided by funds assessed to member states, according to the Reuters report. The rest is provided by donations from the private sector and foundations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

At a press briefing at the WHA on Mar 17, US Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said the absence of influence by industry groups or political pressure is vital to ensuring the WHO's leadership status and transparency, Reuters reported.

The 64th session of the WHA, the decision-making body of the WHO, started May 16 and goes through May 24.  It is made up of delegates, primarily health ministers, from 193 countries.

See also:

May 19 WHA committee draft resolution on pandemic virus sharing

WHO News Twitter feed

May 19 Reuters story

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