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WHO begins external review of swine flu response

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Questions have been raised about the panic caused by a virus that turned out to be mild in nature and infected fewer people than early estimates from the United Nations health agency predicted.

Geneva (dpa) April 12, 2010 -- The World Health Organization on Monday launched a meeting of external experts to review the response to last year's outbreak of the swine flu virus.

The review of the handling of the A(H1N1) pandemic will last three days.

"This has been the most closely watched and carefully scrutinized pandemic in history," WHO Director General Margaret Chan said at the start of the meeting in Geneva.

"We want a frank, critical, transparent, credible and independent review," she added.

The 29 experts who make up the committee hail from various universities and ministries on several continents.

"The members are some of the leading experts in the world in their respective fields," the WHO commented on its website, saying that the committee would review the legally binding International Health Regulations.

The regulations were drawn up in 2005 and entered into force in 2007. The H1N1 outbreak was the first major test of the rules.

"This committee of external experts will begin their assessment of the international pandemic response and identification of lessons learned for the future," the WHO said.

There has been growing criticism of the WHO over its handling of the pandemic.

Many questions have been raised about the panic caused by the virus, which turned out to be mild in nature and infected fewer people than had been predicted by the United Nations health agency in early estimates.

WHO officials have said they needed to sound alarm bells when the A(H1N1) virus started to spread, as no one could know at the time how the pandemic would turn out.

Decisions on vaccine manufacturing have landed in the spotlight too. Also, a WHO committee that made decisions on the vaccines for the flu virus has come under criticism for having members with questionable ties to the industry.

The Council of Europe has been particularly vocal in its criticism of WHO policy. The WHO's executive board in January asked for an assessment of the international response to the influenza.

More than 17,500 confirmed deaths have been reported by the WHO since details of the virus were announced in April last year. This remains far below early estimates.

A quarter million or more people die each year because of seasonal influenza.

Copyright: dpa

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