A panel of independent experts has harshly reviewed the WHO’s handling of the 2009 Influenza pandemic of H1N1 although it found no evidence supporting the accusation that the agency exaggerated the alarm to help vaccine companies get rich.

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The bad news is that the panel found that the world is still woefully unprepared to handle a severe pandemic, and if a more dangerous virus emerges, “tens of millions would be at risk of dying.”

The report is located on the WHO website but requires great dedication and data mining skills to find. It took over 15 minutes for me to locate  it and I had the title of the document although that didn’t prove to be helpful! The link for the report is noted at the bottom of this article.

Although millions of doses of vaccine ultimately went unused, the panel found “no evidence of malfeasance.”  The panel, which has experts from 24 countries and is led by Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg, president of the Institute of Medicine, criticized the agency’s “needlessly complex” definition of a pandemic, which had six levels of alert, based on the virus’s geographical spread, not its severity. At one point, the agency altered, without explanation, its online pages to remove references to severity. That “invited suspicion,” the panel said.

Some of the reports finding include:

  • The panel concluded, “No critic of W.H.O. has produced any direct evidence of commercial influence on decision-making.”
  • Communications were also clumsy. Ceasing routine news conferences after the disease was elevated to pandemic status was “ill advised.”
  • The agency responded “with insufficient vigor” when its integrity was questioned.
  • Countries that needed technical help could not obtain it in enough languages,
  • The WHO bureaucracy created “an unmanageable number of documents,”
  • Asking countries to submit counts of laboratory-confirmed cases created confusion, adding that knowing hospitalization and death rates would have been better.
  • WHO fumbled even simple aspects of a prolonged effort, like food, lodging and child care for its staff.
  • The panel urged the creation of a “global reserve corps” of experts for emergencies, and a $100 million fund for their use.
  • It urged vaccine makers to reserve 10 percent of their production for poor countries. It also criticized some international rules. For example, there is no way to punish nations that needlessly close borders or curtail trade. In 2009, many countries banned pork imports in the mistaken belief that a human flu with some swinish genes could be spread by bacon. Others closed borders or forcibly quarantined visitors with fevers.
  • With help from national health agencies like those of the United States and Canada, the W.H.O. identified the virus quickly and got seed strains to vaccine makers. It also sent experts to countries that asked for help.

The W.H.O. will not respond to the report until the final version is released in May at the annual assembly of the world’s health ministers, a spokeswoman for the agency said. Under W.H.O. rules, the draft had to be made public early to invite comment in time for the final draft.