The World Health Organization denied Jan. 26 that undue influence by pharmaceutical companies led to the UN health agency's declaration last year that the swine flu was a pandemic, Reuters reports.
The Council of Europe, a human rights organization with 47 member countries, conducted an emergency hearing into the issue after widespread accusations that the WHO was pushed into the pandemic declaration for H1N1 by drug companies anxious to win vaccine contracts.
The Council's lead health expert, Wolfgang Wodarg, charged a couple of weeks ago that major drug firms orchestrated a "campaign of panic" to elicit the pandemic finding. Wodarg characterized the WHO decision as "one of the greatest medicine scandals of the century."
As other media reports and politicians have echoed Wodarg's arguments, at the Council of Europe hearing Tuesday in Strasbourg, France, the WHO's top flu expert conceded mistakes by the organization but denied that drug firms improperly influenced the pandemic decision.
"Let me state clearly for the record," said the WHO flu expert, Keiji Fukuda. "The influenza pandemic policies and responses recommended and taken by WHO were not improperly influenced by the pharmaceutical industry."
While thousands of people died from H1N1, Wodarg charged that the death toll was far less than the usual number of people who die from the seasonal flu.
While the WHO did not recommend travel restrictions because of the H1N1 outbreak, it did cause major disruptions and quarantines in some markets, and had the travel industry prepared for the worst.
The WHO also is conducting its own internal review of how it handled H1N1.