Council of Europe affirms critique of WHO's pandemic response

Jun 24, 2010 (CIDRAP News) – The Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) voted overwhelmingly today to endorse its health committee's controversial report that criticizes the handling of the H1N1 pandemic by the World Health Organization and European governments.

The approved resolution asserts that the pandemic response by the WHO, European Union health agencies, and national governments led to "a waste of large sums of public money, and unjustified scares and fears about the health risks faced by the European public," the council said in a press release.

The vote in favor of the resolution was 60-1, with one abstention. The lone opposition vote and the abstention both came from French representatives. The council, with members from 47 countries, promotes democracy and human rights in Europe.

The resolution asserts that there were "grave shortcomings" in the transparency of decision-making about the pandemic, which generated concerns about the influence of the pharmaceutical industry. The PACE fears that this will undermine confidence in major public health institutions, which could prove "disastrous" in the next pandemic, the resolution says.

The document also says that the WHO has been "highly defensive" about its handling of the pandemic. It notes that the WHO and European health agencies have withheld the names of members of the WHO's Emergency Committee, which has advised the agency on the pandemic response.

After the council committee's report was released early in June, the WHO issued statements acknowledging a need to strengthen its policies concerning transparency and relations with the drug industry. But the agency strongly denied any improper industry influence on its pandemic actions.

The WHO also has rejected the council's argument that the agency removed severity from its definition of a pandemic in order to facilitate the declaration of the pandemic last June. The last revision of the definition was made in February 2009, two months before the virus emerged, officials have said.

The WHO has commissioned a panel of independent experts to review the agency's handling of the pandemic. The group's final report is not expected until next year.

The PACE resolution "welcomes the review and evaluation processes regarding the handling of the H1N1 pandemic recently launched or about to be launched by WHO, European institutions dealing with health issues and a number of national governments and parliaments."

See also:

Jun 24 Council of Europe press release, with links to resolution and recommendations

Jun 10 CIDRAP News story "WHO defends pandemic actions, says rules need tightening"

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