Geneva: Health experts yesterday began a WHO probe into the controversial response to the first influenza pandemic of the 21st century, nearly a year after global alarm was raised over the new swine flu strain.
"We want to know what worked well. We want to know what went wrong and ideally why," World Health Organisation Director-General Margaret Chan told the 29 health experts as they held their first meeting in Geneva. "We want to know what can be done better and ideally how," she added.
The WHO formed the panel of experts following accusations that the agency-led international reaction to A(H1N1) influenza was overblown and may have been tainted by commercial interests.
The committee of experts from 28 countries will be chaired by Professor Harvey Fineberg, president of Washington's Institute of Medicine.
After the formative three-day meeting, the International Health Regulations review committee's work is expected to take about nine months, WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said. Chan promised an "independent credible and transparent" examination of the way the bolstered three-year-old International Health Regulations, which are designed to counter sudden threats from infectious diseases, had worked.She said there would be no restrictions on its scope and emphasised that the WHO's management would come under scrutiny.
Specialists broadly defended the alarm over the discovery of A(H1N1) cases in Mexico and the United States in April 2009 as well as the WHO's declaration of a pandemic in June as the flu swiftly spread. It has affected 213 countries and territories since then.
"I think they gave a terrific lead and were very authoritative. I think we have a lot to thank them for," John Oxford, a virologist and professor at Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry.