WHO responds to BMJ investigative report

World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan fired back Tuesday in response to an investigative report recently published in British Medical Journal.

The British Medical Journal report blasted the WHO, stating that when it listed guidance on use of vaccines and antivirals in a flu pandemic in 2004, it did not disclose the industry ties of three key scientists who helped develop it, CIDRAP News reports.

The report also criticized the WHO for withholding the names of members of the emergency committee that has advised the agency on pandemic alert phase decisions.

“Potential conflicts of interest are inherent in any relationship between a normative and health development agency, like WHO, and profit-driven industry,” Chan wrote in her letter of response, CIDRAP News reports. “WHO needs to establish, and enforce, stricter rules of engagement with industry, and we are doing so. However, let me be perfectly clear on one point. At no time, not for one second, did commercial interests enter my decision-making.”

Chan also denied that the WHO provoked unjustified fear about the H1N1 virus when she declared the pandemic under way on Jun 11, 2009.

“I drew attention to the fact that we did not expect to see a sudden and dramatic jump in the number of severe or fatal infections,” Chan wrote. “In every assessment of the pandemic, WHO consistently reminded the public that the overwhelming majority of patients experienced mild symptoms and made a rapid and full recovery, even without medical treatment.”