Under fire WHO ready to review handling of flu pandemic

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jan 12 2010 08:55 PM | Updated as of Jan 13 2010 04:55 AM

GENEVA, Switzerland - The World Health Organisation said Tuesday that it was ready to hold an independent review of its response to swine flu, amid growing criticism of official handling of the pandemic.

However, WHO officials said such a review might not be set up until the pandemic is regarded as over, a period which could take months or even years.

"We expect and indeed welcome criticism and a chance to discuss it," WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told journalists.

"In the future we will also do an evaluation of our work with outside experts, in order to assess the work of WHO in the management of the pandemic influenza H1N1," she added.

"Evaluation is necessary and we are open to recommendations that can improve our work, when this is over WHO will undoubtedly work with outside experts."

The UN health agency was still working out the details of such a process.

Council of Europe parliamentarian Wolfgang Wodarg last week said he and several colleagues had called for a commission of inquiry into a "false pandemic" and the way it was handled at national and European levels, claiming pressure from pharmaceutical firms.

Some European countries have been trying to sell off stocks of unused vaccine in recent weeks, after many had geared up to deliver two doses instead of what eventually turned out to be the required single dose.

Chaib denied that the WHO was in conflict with its member states.

WHO flu spokeswoman Nyka Alexander said it could take "several seasons" to determine that a pandemic was over.

"We can't say a pandemic is over until we have seen that it hasn't come back," she explained.

The WHO is also due to open its annual executive board meeting next Monday to a question and answer session from the 34 member states in the body on its management of the A(H1N1) pandemic.

The WHO declared a global pandemic last June, weeks after putting the world on an emergency footing over the sudden discovery and swift spread of the then unknown new swine flu virus in April 2009 in Mexico and the United States.

It now reaches into more than 200 countries having left at least 12,799 people dead, according to the agency's data.