WHO to review its handling of H1N1 flu pandemic

GENEVA — The World Health Organization is to examine its handling of the H1N1 pandemic, the group said Jan. 12, after accusations by some politicians that it exaggerated the dangers of the virus under pressure from drug companies.

The United Nations health agency will review the way it dealt with the outbreak of swine flu once the pandemic has subsided, WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told a news briefing.

"Criticism is part of an outbreak cycle. We expect and indeed welcome criticism and the chance to discuss it," she said, adding that the WHO's review would involve independent outside experts and its results would be made public.

But she said it was too soon to say when the examination would take place or which experts would be involved.

In the latest complaint about the way authorities have dealt with the pandemic, the Council of Europe, a political forum of most European countries, is to determine whether drug companies influenced public health officials to spend money unnecessarily on stockpiles of H1N1 vaccines.

Chaib said the WHO took its work of providing independent advice to its 193 member states seriously, and guarded against the influence of vested interests.

Governments will have an opportunity to question the WHO about H1N1 at a meeting of its 34-member board next week.

The WHO's top flu expert, Keiji Fukuda, will brief the board on Jan. 18 about the latest developments in the first influenza pandemic in more than 40 years.

Developing countries still lack adequate access to both antivirals and vaccines despite donations from industrialized countries and drug makers, the WHO said.