Swine Flu: 'the next time someone cries wolf on a pandemic, it will not be taken seriously'

Paris, 29.03.2010 - “The next time someone cries wolf over a pandemic, the overwhelming majority will not take it seriously,” participants were told today at a parliamentary hearing on the handling of the H1N1 pandemic, organised in Paris by PACE’s Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee. 

“A pandemic cannot be whatever the WHO declares it is. If it turns out that former PACE member Wolfgang Wodarg was right when he said the pandemic was decided to help the pharmaceutical industry make bigger profits, this might well turn out to be one of the biggest health scandals ever,” said Paul Flynn (United Kingdom, SOC), PACE rapporteur on this issue.

Participants also expressed regret at the WHO’s failure to revise its position on the pandemic, and warned against a possible repetition of events if no lessons were learnt. “The world no longer trusts the WHO, but we need a body of this kind and it must therefore restore its own credibility,” Mr Flynn added.

He paid tribute to the rare courage of the Polish Health Minister Ewa Kopacz, who had refused to be held hostage by the pharmaceutical industry and did not order vaccines. She said that drug company profit should not be more important than people.

She urged the WHO to urgently re-examine their position and decrease the pandemic alert level. She also denounced the lack of solidarity among European states when the pandemic was declared and the lack of co-ordination at EU level. Marc Gentilini, an expert in infectious diseases who is a former President of the French Red Cross, regretted that there was no such thing as a European health policy and called for the building of what he called a Europe of Health: “The precautionary principle is not a political umbrella to be abused,” he said.

Health researcher Tom Jefferson, of the independently-funded Cochrane Collaboration, stressed that parliamentary democracy was the best means of ensuring that private interests do not prevail over the sovereignty of states: “We trust democracy to have a surveillance system that works. The public health sector may not rely on privatised expertise,” he warned, underlining that so-called experts did not emerge like daisies but were “created and made into key opinion-leaders”.

Michèle Rivasi, a member of the Green Group in the European Parliament, who is calling for an inquiry by MEPs into the handling of the ‘flu pandemic, illustrated what she called “the chronicle of a pandemic foretold” and denounced  the rush with which the WHO had announced the pandemic. She asked whether we were getting the whole truth from the WHO. She said it was important for PACE and the European Parliament to work together on this issue.

The participants also regretted that the WHO had not accepted the invitation to participate in this second hearing.