WHO committee on H1N1 pandemic response closes third meeting

The committee charged with critiquing the World Health Organization’s response to the H1N1 pandemic completed a third round of meetings this week.

Dr. Harvey Fineberg, the group's chairman and president of the Institute of Medicine of the US National Academy of Sciences, told CIDRAP News that the committee is still in an information-gathering mode.

The review committee's last meeting in Geneva was in early July. Fineberg said the committee will meet again in November for deliberation sessions, adding that the group will probably have a draft of a report for its own members to review by early January. The members will submit a final report that includes a response from WHO director Margaret Chan next May, CIDRAP News reports.

During the most recent session, Fineberg told CIDRAP News that the committee heard large blocks of testimony from key people who led the WHO's response, including Chan.

Chan told the panel about the challenges and successes she observed during the WHO's pandemic response. She told CIDRAP News that she welcomes the review and is mindful of the praise and criticisms WHO has received.

“Had the virus turned more lethal, we would be under scrutiny for having failed to protect large numbers of people,” Chan told CIDRAP News. “Vaccine supplies would have been too little, too late, with large parts of the developing world left almost entirely unprotected.”

Chan rejected charges that the WHO exaggerated the pandemic threat. She told the panel that when she announced the move to alert phase six she reminded the world that the number of deaths were small and that she didn't expect to see them increase suddenly. She also flatly rejected charges that commercial interests played a part WHO's pandemic alert level decisions.

"I can assure you: never for one moment did I see a single shred of evidence that pharmaceutical interests, as opposed to public health concerns, influenced any decisions or advice provided to WHO by its scientific advisors," Chan told CIDRAP News.