>Washington, DC.- It has been a year since the world woke up to a global pandemic swine flu alarm, declared by the World Health Organization (WHO). It was in June 2009 when the director general, Ms. Margaret Chan, alerted the world about the flu, which was so dangerous — it justified the declaration of a Level 6, the highest in the pandemic influenza phases. That decision forced governments all over the world to act; many countries started to buy millions of doses of vaccine to be ready for a potential threat against its populations. But after one year, what was supposed to be a massive infection killing millions, resulted in a flu less-dangerous than the ordinary seasonal one.
The decision announced by Ms. Chan created a massive panic which affected government decisions, economical expenses, and global fear foster by unjustified news coverage. Many countries cumulated millions of vaccines waiting for the worst scenario, which never arrived. France spent €600 million on 90 million doses, but only used 10 percent—and this is only one example.
After one year of the WHO outcry, the only thing that is clear is that the biggest beneficiaries of the process have been the pharmaceutical industry. A very interesting BBC investigation revealed that some companies like Novartis received threats from public offices asking for more vaccines. These threats were justified by the pressure of the public opinion and the press, and also because of the WHO announcement.
Twelve months later, it is not still clear why the WHO decided to raise the level of danger, nor the documents or technical figures used to support the decision. Usually, the WHO technical and political conversations are not disclosed. However, since a decision of that magnitude has huge economic and social impact, the process should be more transparent and credible. Until now, what we really know is the hundreds of millions of people who were vaccinated following public-health-policies guidelines and that governments all over the world spent millions of dollars buying doses following WHO guidelines.
The face of that decision was Ms. Margaret Chan. She seemed to be secure enough in that moment to announce the pandemic; a decision that she knew it would create criticism because of the social, economical, and political consequences. She was sure one year ago, but now what we know is that although the flu was severe, it was not as mortal as it was announced. Ms. Chan decision had consequences, and among those, hundreds of millions of tax dollars went to private companies, a movement that has only one precedent in history, military spending in war times. Somebody should answer the unsolved questions, and if the explanations are not good enough, Ms. Chan should think if she is the right person to lead the WHO.
Foto: LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images