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Archive for June, 2010

The next update will be on Tuesday, June 22nd, at 0830 hrs PST.

The WHO Pandemic Alert level remains at Phase 6

Influenza A (H1N1) Cases and Deaths*

*Cases reported by The World Health Organization (WHO) are as of June 6, 2010

International News

Indian H1N1 outbreak claims 16 lives in one month

With onset of monsoon season in Southeast Asia, influenza is considered a common monsoon-related malady. In southwest India, the state of Kerala is suffering from a large resurgence in H1N1 infections. Of the 16 deaths due to H1N1 the agrarian state has reported since May 15th, 9 were pregnant women. India’s National Centre for Disease Control has sent its Joint Director with an epidemiologist and a virologist as a three-doctor swift response team to the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram, to investigate and combat the outbreak. In addition, the Indian parliament has approved shipments to Kerala of 600 000 Oseltamivir tablets, 20 000 bottles of pediatric syrup and 31 000 doses of vaccine. Monsoon season is expected to last another two to three months. Infocera

Vietnam wants to lower its pandemic alert level

Not content to wait for the World Health Organization’s review in July, Vietnam’s Deputy Minister of Health Trinh Quan Huan has suggested lowering his country’s H1N1 alert level. According to Huan, his ministry had “heard” that senior WHO officials had been lobbied by pharmaceutical companies to influence the official pandemic declaration. “This is a big issue,” he said. The Vietnam Health Ministry spent approximately $52.5 million on pandemic prevention measures last year. Thanh Nien News

New Zealand vaccinates record numbers of citizens

The New Zealand government says over a million of its citizens were vaccinated against the flu this year; the highest number of people ever to respond to its public immunization program. New Zealand Health Minister Tony Ryall congratulated health officials, doctors and nurses on their “great job” and urged those who qualify for free vaccinations “to take up this offer while vaccine stocks last”. New Zealand’s last census estimates the country’s population at 4.3 million. TV3 News

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The next update will be on Thursday, June 17th, at 0830 hrs PST.

The WHO Pandemic Alert level remains at Phase 6

Influenza A (H1N1) Cases and Deaths*

*Cases reported by The World Health Organization (WHO) are as of June 6, 2010

International News

The WHO, CIDRAP and others continue to respond to BMJ allegations

Defenders of the World Health Organization’s pandemic recommendations continue to surface in the face of criticism from the British Medical Journal, now the BMJ.  Earlier this month the BMJ suggested the UN body had come under the influence of drug industry corruption and that the H1N1 guidelines provided by three of its flu experts were suspect.  David Ozonoff, an epidemiologist at the Boston University School of Public Health, called the report a “smear” that insinuates the serious charge that they would have given different advice if they hadn’t had relationships with drug companies.  The BMJ authors Deborah Cohen and Philip Carter responded, “We think this is the researcher’s reading into it, not necessarily ours.”

Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, called the article “irresponsible and reckless” saying, “There was nothing in those guidelines that was not based on the best science available.  To suggest that the three scientists were able to direct and control the final recommendations [of the 22-member panel] is naive, and stated without a single shred of evidence.”

Epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch at the Harvard School of Public Health compared the situation with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico: “It is ironic, as we watch […] the catastrophic results of ‘best-case scenario planning’ […], to have the WHO coming under criticism for planning for, and raising awareness of, the possibility of a severe pandemic. […] They should be commended for it.”

Director General of the WHO Margaret Chan sent an open letter to the BMJ in response to the article. In it, she allowed that transparency and stricter rules of engagement with industry were issues the agency was working to improve on, but “at no time, not for one second, did commercial interests enter my decision-making.”

According to the Journal article, “pharmaceutical companies, […] put pressure on WHO to declare a pandemic. It was the declaring of the pandemic that triggered the [vaccine purchasing] contracts.”  However, many countries including the United Kingdom, France, Finland, Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United States had already activated their contracts and placed large orders for H1N1 vaccine weeks before the WHO declared the pandemic on June 11, 2009.  Therefore, the Emergency Committee could not have influenced these in any way.  “You are absolutely right,” conceded the authors of the BMJ article when challenged with this timeline.  Nature News

Pandemic, one year later

The H1N1 pandemic is officially a year old as of last Friday.  On June 11, 2009, the World Health Organization’s Director General declared the H1N1 outbreak was a phase-six pandemic.  The avian (H5N1) flu virus had led the public to associate the term “pandemic” with high death rates, so the WHO hesitated making the declaration over concerns it would cause undue alarm.  The announcement came about seven weeks after the virus surfaced.  A year later, labs officially confirm H1N1 has claimed 18,156 lives though the actual count, which won’t be known for years, is expected to be many times higher.  While H1N1 activity has tapered off in most parts of the world, the WHO maintains a phase six alert.  World Health Organization

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