Analysts say WHO communication errors spurred 'false pandemic' charges

Two former World Health Organization consultants have said that communication missteps fueled accusations that the organization exaggerated the H1N1 threat in order to enrich pharmaceutical companies.

The analysts, Peter Sandman and Jody Lanard, called the allegations absurd, but said the organization made itself vulnerable by making three communication errors, CIDRAP News reports.

The allegations were recently leveled against WHO in a report by the Council of Europe and an investigative report in BMJ, formerly the British Medical Journal. The COE report alleged that the WHO hyped the pandemic partly in order to enrich the companies that make vaccines and antivirals. The BMJ article primarily examined alleged conflicts of interest.

Lanard and Sandman wrote the three communications mistakes made by the WHO included reporting on the mildness of the pandemic, the debatable meaning of the term influenza pandemic and the inevitable, but not culpable, structural conflicts of interest of WHO advisers.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan recently denied the allegations made by the COE regarding hyping the virus to help drug companies. She did, however, acknowledge that the WHO needs to develop better policies and methods for disclosing potential conflicts of interest.

The WHO has commissioned a committee of independent experts to review the handling of the pandemic. That group will meet in Geneva this week, but its final report is not expected until next year.