Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A special workshop on Swine Flu

This morning I participated in a special hearing in the European Parliament on the way that European Union institutions and agencies and other public health authorities handled the H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic of last year.

We heard from the European Commission, representatives of the Swedish and Belgian EU presidencies, the director of the European Centre for Communicable Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the director of the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) and the director of WHO Europe.

It was important to have the debate on the lessons we can learn in order to better help us prepare for a future, possibly more deadly pandemic. It was never about a witch hunt or conspiracy theories. As citizens and politicians we expect governments to prepare for the worst, and should the worst happen and preparations were found to be wanting the uproar would be deafening.

Nevertheless there are clearly questions to be answered surrounding how decisions are reached and transparency issues. I am pleased that EU agencies publish names and declarations of interest for key experts and advisors, but questions remain about the WHO, which refuses to publish declarations of interest for its experts and advisors, citing privacy concerns. The answer to my question from the current WHO director for Europe, Zsuzsanna Jakab was that this was being reviewed and she would raise my concerns with WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan. Questions also remain over the definition of a pandemic, given that the WHO raised the pandemic level to its highest (level 6), which appears to merely be based on geographical spread, rather than taking account of the severity of the virus, and I believe in future it would be important to distinguish between the two.

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