Thursday, December 3, 2009

WHO Use of Advisory Bodies in Responding to the Influenza Pandemic

WHO issued a statement today acknowledging rising concerns that ties with the pharmaceutical industry among experts on the Organization’s advisory bodies may influence policy decisions, especially those relating to the influenza pandemic. WHO says that these criticisms are understandable but unfounded.

The agency has stated that there are many safeguards in place within the Organization to manage possible conflicts of interest in relationships expert advisers. External experts who advise WHO are required to provide a declaration of interests that details professional or financial interests that could compromise the impartiality of their advice. Procedures are in place for identifying, investigating and assessing potential conflicts of interest, disclosing them, and taking appropriate action such as excluding an expert from participating in a meeting.

Under the provisions of the revised International Health Regulations that were passed into legal force in 2007, an Emergency Committee advises the WHO Director-General on matters such as declaring a public health emergency of international concern, the need to raise the level of pandemic alert following spread of the H1N1 virus, and the need to introduce temporary measures, such as restrictions on travel or trade. Final decisions are made by the Director-General, as guided by the Committee’s advice. All members of the Emergency Committee sign a confidentiality agreement, provide a declaration of interests, and agree to give their consultative time freely, without compensation. Members of the Committee are drawn from a roster of about 160 experts covering a range of public health areas.

WHO has expressed that public perceptions about the current H1N1 influenza pandemic, as well as national preparedness plans, were strongly influenced by a five-year close watch over the highly lethal H5N1 avian influenza virus, which was widely regarded as the virus most likely to ignite the next influenza pandemic. A pandemic caused by a virus that kills more than 60% of the people it infects is strikingly, and fortunately, very different from the reality of the current pandemic.

The brief goes on to say that adjusting public perceptions to suit a far less lethal virus has been problematic. Given the discrepancy between what was expected and what has happened, a search for ulterior motives on the part of WHO and its scientific advisers is understandable, though without justification.

Source: Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 briefing note 19

No comments: