Scandal prompts WHO to assert consistency in pandemic definition

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The World Health Organization has said they have not changed the definition of pandemic during the course of the influenza A (H1N1) outbreak.

The United Nations agency made the statement in a press release on Friday in response to the accusation of Wolfgang Wodarg, head of health at the Council of Europe, that pharmaceutical companies had placed their people in WHO, influencing its decision to declare the disease as an outbreak last June.

Dr. Wodarg told the UK-owned Daily News that their influence could have led the WHO to soften its definition of a pandemic, declaring it a global pandemic, and as a result, fetching huge profits to flu drugs and vaccines makers.

“We have had a mild flu - and a false pandemic,” he told the newspaper.

WHO asserted that it did not exaggerate the pandemic, as it has consistently assessed the impact of the current influenza pandemic as moderate.

The agency had to take actions and make recommendations at the beginning of the pandemic be it severe or mild, it added.

WHO also affirmed that it has systems to prevent potential conflicts of interest by experts in its advisory groups.

Any allegations of conflicts of interests by WHO experts would be investigated immediately, the agency said in a statement.

According to the Daily Mail, the Council of Europe had approved an investigation into Dr. Wodarg’s allegations and a debate on the issue would be held later this month.

In the meantime, Trinh Quan Huan, deputy head of Vietnam Ministry of Health, said in Tuoi Tre on Tuesday: “Vietnam’s current viewpoint is to consult various sources of information and wait for WHO’s official opinions.”

Although Huan admitted that the epidemic was happening not as strongly as expected with death rate equal or lower than that of common flu, he warned not to neglect flu control duties, because the virus’ changes in the future were still unknown.

Swine flu’s death rate in Vietnam was 0.45 percent, according to Huan.

He said 1.2 million doses of H1N1 vaccines sponsored by WHO would probably be launched at certain localities instead of on a large scale as previously planned, if the pandemic were identified to be decreasing in Vietnam and the world.

Asked about the country’s plan to buy another 500,000 doses of H1N1 vaccines this first quarter, the official said the ministry had decided to delay it and that whether to buy the vaccines would depend on the epidemic’s happenings.

Source: Thanh Nien

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