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WHO Denies Pharmaceutical Influence In H1N1 Pandemic

April 15, 2010

World Health Organization (WHO) officials have denied that drug companies have influenced their handling of the ongoing swine flu pandemic, announcing on Wednesday that the H1N1 virus continued to be a threat, especially to younger people.

“This is just as severe as we saw in 1957 and 1968, with one major difference. We are not seeing deaths in the elderly but we are seeing them in a more important group of the population, healthy young adults,” John Mackenzie, the head of the WHO’s Emergency Committee, said during a three-day conference to discuss the organization’s response to the outbreak.

“It is much more severe than people tend to talk about,” he added. “We still have evidence of the pandemic in Asia and in West Africa”¦ [and] we also want to see what happens in a second wave in the southern hemisphere. We have no idea what will happen and have some concerns.”

Mackenzie’s comments come on the heels of criticism and levies against the WHO and other government agencies around the world about how they overreacted to the swine flu.

Some have argued that members of the pharmaceutical industry exerted influence on the WHO’s handling of the pandemic–a charge which both Mackenzie and Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on immunization official David Salisbury deny.

“There has been no declaration of conflict from any SAGE member in our proceeding on A (H1N1) vaccine,” Salisbury told the members of the panel Wednesday, according to the AFP. “To my knowledge the industry has not done anything other than provide us with scientific information”¦ There was at no time any attempt to influence the advice we gave.”

“Certainly as the chair I was not approached by the pharmaceutical industry and I don’t know of any member who was,” added Mackenzie. “I was the only person known externally so who could have been approached?”

The committee chairman, Dr. Harvey Fineberg, emphasized that the 29-member panel overseeing the probe were “not here either to defend or to prosecute the WHO”¦ We’re here to find out as best we can, in as truthful way we can what are the lessons that can be learnt” from the pandemic response.

The official death toll from the H1N1 outbreak is 17,700, according to the WHO.

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