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Statement of the World Health Organization on allegations of conflict of interest and 'fake' pandemic

Statement
22 January 2010

Providing independent advice to Member States is a very important function of the World Health Organization (WHO). We take this work seriously and guard against the influence of any improper interests. The WHO influenza pandemic policies and response have not been improperly influenced by the pharmaceutical industry.

WHO recognizes that global cooperation with a range of partners, including the private sector, is essential to pursue public health objectives today and in the future. Numerous safeguards are in place to manage conflicts of interest or perceived conflicts of interest among members of WHO advisory groups and expert committees. Expert advisers provide a signed declaration of interests to WHO detailing any professional or financial interest that could affect the impartiality of their advice. WHO takes allegations of conflict of interest seriously and is confident of its decision-making independence regarding the pandemic influenza.

Additional allegations that WHO created a 'fake' pandemic to bring economic benefit to industry are scientifically wrong and historically incorrect.

  • Lab analyses showed that this influenza virus was genetically and antigenically very different from other influenza viruses circulating among people
  • Epidemiological information provided by Mexico, the US and Canada demonstrated person-to-person transmission.
  • Clinical information, especially from Mexico, indicated this virus also could cause severe disease and death. At the time, those reports did not indicate a pandemic situation, but taken together sent a very strong warning to WHO and other public health authorities to be ready for one.
  • As the pandemic evolved, clinicians identified a very severe form of primary viral pneumonia, which was rapidly progressive and frequently fatal, that is not part of the disease pattern seen during seasonal influenza. While these cases were relatively rare, they imposed a heavy burden on intensive care units.
  • Geographical spread was exceptionally rapid.
    • On 29 April 2009, WHO reported lab confirmed cases in 9 countries.
    • About 6 weeks later, on 11 June, WHO reported cases in 74 countries and territories in more than two WHO regions. It is this global spread which led WHO to call for increasing phases and finally, to announce that a pandemic was underway.
    • By 1 July, infections had been confirmed in 120 countries and territories.

The world is going through a real pandemic. The description of it as a fake is wrong and irresponsible. We welcome any legitimate review process that can improve our work.

An explanation of how WHO uses advisory bodies in responding to the influenza pandemic was made publicly available on the WHO web site on 3 December 2009

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