WHO sets up independent review of swine flu response

The World Health Organisation said Monday it would go ahead next month with an independent review of the response to the swine flu pandemic, after criticism of its role in declaring a global alert.

The international response will be scrutinised by a committee of 29 independent health experts and scientists which is being formed by the UN health agency, Special Advisor on Pandemic Influenza Keiji Fukuda said.

"The first meeting will be on 12 to 14 April," he told journalists, promising an "in depth and broad" review into "the preparedness and the response to the current influenza pandemic."

"The bottom line for doing this is to identify what we have to do to get better," he added.

Fukuda acknowledged that with hindsight a better response would have involved "less confusion".

It would be up to the experts to determine what issues to deal with and who to question, with their final report due in time for the annual assembly of the WHO's 193 member states in May 2011, Fukuda added.

In January WHO officials had responded to growing criticism of its guidance by promising an independent review, but only when the pandemic was regarded as over.

Fukuda stressed on Monday that A(H1N1) influenza was continuing in parts of Southeast Asia, West and central Africa, while there were reports of renewed cases in Central and South America.

A British newspaper reported that a Council of Europe probe scrutinising the WHO's response believed that the health agency had "gambled away" public confidence by overstating the dangers of A(H1N1) flu.

"This decline in confidence could be risky in the future," The Guardian's online edition Sunday quoted a draft report by Paul Flynn, vice-chair of the Council's health committee, as saying.

Flynn reportedly warned that it could undermine the response to a future pandemic, prompting people to shun advice on vaccination and potentially put their own health and lives at risk.

The WHO declared a global pandemic in June 2009, weeks after putting the world on an emergency footing over the sudden discovery and swift spread of the then unknown new swine flu virus in April 2009 in Mexico and the United States.

The flu now reaches into 213 countries and overseas territories, having left more than 16,900 people dead, according to the agency's data.

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