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WHO Official Rejects Claims Agency Overhyped Threat Of H1N1

Keiji Fukuda, the special adviser to the WHO director general on pandemic influenza, on Thursday dismissed allegations that the agency exaggerated the threat of the H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic and has been influenced by the pharmaceutical industry, the Washington Post reports. Fukuda’s defense came amid reports this week that the Council of Europe will investigate the WHO’s actions and as several countries slash H1N1 vaccine orders.

“The world is going through a real pandemic. The description of it as a fake is both wrong and irresponsible,” Fukuda said during a news conference. “WHO has been balanced and truthful in the information it has provided to the public. It has not underplayed and not overplayed the risk it poses to the public” (Stein, 1/15).

Fukuda told reporters that while the “WHO welcomes constructive criticism, … charges of a ‘false pandemic’ by a group of European officials led by Wolfgang Wodarg, a German physician who chairs the Council of Europe’s health committee, are ‘scientifically wrong and historically inaccurate,’” CIDRAP News reports. The article also examines the response of the European Vaccine Manufacturers – a trade group that represents companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, MedImmune, Novartis, and Sanofi – to the criticisms by the Council of Europe that pharmaceutical companies influenced WHO’s handling of the H1N1 pandemic (Schnirring, 1/14).   

According to Fukuda, an estimated 13,000 people worldwide have been killed by H1N1 – a number that is likely to be “considerably higher when the final estimate of the toll from H1N1 is made in the future,” VOA News reports (Schlein, 1/14).

The Canadian Press: “Fukuda also said dismissing the pandemic as a fake or a dud is ‘somewhat disrespectful’ to the people who died or were severely sickened by the virus, as well as to those who have worked long hours on pandemic responses around the world. Those responses, he said, are the most concerted in the history of influenza and will have averted infections and deaths.”

“We don’t know how much these efforts have helped to mitigate the overall effect of the pandemic, but we firmly believe that these efforts should not be discounted,” Fukuda said. During the press conference, Fukuda cautioned against the assumption that the pandemic was over. “The path of the virus remains as impossible to predict now as it was when it first emerged, he said,” according to the news service (Branswell, 1/14).

“‘In other parts of the world, we see that activity is declining or has declined but we also continue to see in these areas a transmission of the virus, so it is not disappeared, and it is has not gone back to baseline,’ Fukuda said,” the U.N. News Centre reports. Fukuda “add[ed] that it is still unclear whether another significant wave will occur in the northern hemisphere during its winter and spring period, or what will happen in the southern hemisphere during its winter months,” according to the news service (1/14).