WHO under fire over handling of swine flu


THE COUNCIL of Europe has issued a scathing report on how the World Health Organisation (WHO) performed during the swine flu outbreak. According to the council, the organisation had wasted public money and raised unjustified scares about the health risks involved.

Yesterday’s report by the council’s Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee also described “grave shortcomings” in its decision-making, which raised concerns about the involvement of the pharmaceutical industry when choices were made and money was spent.

The report’s contention that the industry may have influenced the WHO is backed up by an investigation also published yesterday by the British Medical Journal and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

The investigation said that some scientists advising the WHO had done paid work for pharmaceutical firms. An adviser who authored WHO guidance on antiviral treatment had received payment from pharmaceuticals giant Roche for lecturing and consultancy work, it said.

The investigation also found two other scientists with financial links to Roche who prepared annexes on pandemic guidelines.

The industry made billions of euros during the height of the swine flu “crisis”, with the sale of antiviral drugs such as Roche’s Tamiflu and and GSK’s Relenza.

The Government bought sufficient antivirals to treat half of the Irish population and enough vaccines to cover all here who asked for them.

Other countries did the same on advice from the WHO.

Both reports also highlighted the fact that the WHO had refused to publish the names and declarations of interest of members of its emergency committee and European advisory bodies directly involved in recommendations on the pandemic.

The WHO denied any industry influence on the scientific advice it had received. It also said there were mechanisms in place to protect against conflicts of interest.