H1N1 pandemic to be downgraded

The World Health Organization is preparing to downgrade the status of the H1N1 influenza pandemic at a meeting of its emergency committee, which is expected to take place in late July

"The pandemic continues, however, the emergency committee which advises [WHO Director-General] Margaret Chan will meet at the end of the month to decide whether to scale it back to a post-pandemic phase," Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO regional director for Europe, told EurActiv.com. "We all expect this to happen sooner rather than later, probably by the end of July.”

The WHO raised the level of the threat to phase six on a six point scale a little over a year ago. The move to a post-pandemic phase would officially mark an end to the pandemic. The WHO is reviewing its guidelines on what constitutes a pandemic after criticism that its response was an overreaction. Jakab told EurActiv.com that new guidelines would most likely focus on the severity of the outbreak as opposed to its spread geographically.

Jakab defended the WHO response to the H1N1 outbreak, but many EU member states have been left with millions of doses of the vaccine and many members of the European Parliament have called for an official probe.

The Council of Europe has already conducted an investigation that resulted in a call for more transparency from the WHO. The investigation revealed that the WHO did not disclose its ties to members of the pharmaceutical industry that stood to benefit from the massive vaccine production effort, and it claimed that the WHO distorted the public health priorities of the EU, resulting in massive waste and unjustified panic.

“It is a difficult issue, because to boost vaccine production in the pharmaceutical industry it was important that some member states made this pre-pandemic purchase agreement to show industry that a market for the vaccines exists," Jakab told Euractiv.com. "Without this, vaccine production would not have started." She further said that the WHO is now reviewing its policy of protecting the anonymity of its independent experts until they have finished their work, but she defended their results in the case of the H1N1 outbreak.