Two European reports have accused the World Health Organization (WHO) of both exaggerating the threat of the H1N1 virus and failing to disclose important information about it. In Friday’s Washington Post, Rob Stein explained:
The WHO’s response caused widespread, unnecessary fear and prompted countries around the world to waste millions of dollars, according to one report. At the same time, the Geneva-based arm of the United Nations relied on advice from experts with ties to drug makers in developing the guidelines it used to encourage countries to stockpile millions of doses of antiviral medications, according to the second report.
The first report was issued by a Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, “which launched an investigation in response to allegations that the WHO’s response to the pandemic was influenced by drug companies that make antiviral drugs and vaccines.”
The second report was a joint investigation by the British Medical Journal and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism criticising “guidelines the WHO developed based in part on the advice of three experts who received consulting fees from the two leading manufacturers of antiviral drugs used against the virus, Roche and GlaxoSmithKline.”
While some believe these reports have damaged the WHO’s credibility, others claim the reports are unfair. WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said there was indeed a H1N1 pandemic, and there was no conflict of interest:
“WHO would say categorically that it believes that it has not been subject to undue conflict-of-interest. We know that some experts that come to our committees have contact with industry. It would be surprising if they didn’t because the best experts are sought by all organizations,” Hartl said. “We feel that the guidelines produced were certainly not subject to undue influence.”
He may be right. But at the very least, this should make the WHO more accountable to its mission.