EU critics say WHO exaggerating H1N1 threat,

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Washington, June 5 (ANI): European criticism of the World Health Organization's handling of the H1N1 pandemic has intensified with the release of two reports that accused the agency of exaggerating the threat posed by the virus and failing to disclose possible influence by the pharmaceutical industry on its recommendations for how countries should respond.

According to one of the two reports, the WHO response has caused widespread, unnecessary fear and prompted countries around the world to waste millions of dollars.

There is also criticism over its over reliance on advice from drug experts.

"For WHO, its credibility has been badly damaged. WHO must act now to restore its credibility," the Washington Post quotes Fiona Godlee, the editor of the BMJ, a prominent British medical journal, as saying.

"The idea that we declared a pandemic when there wasn't a pandemic is both historically inaccurate and downright irresponsible," said WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl in a telephone interview.

"There is no doubt that this was a pandemic. To insinuate that this was not a pandemic is very disrespectful to the people who died from it," Hartl added.

The first report, released in Paris, came from the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which launched an investigation in response to allegations that the WHO's response to the pandemic was influenced by drug companies who make antiviral drugs and vaccines.

The second report, a joint investigation by the BMJ and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which is based in London, criticized 2004 guidelines the WHO developed based in part on the advice of three experts who received consulting fees from the two leading manufacturers of antiviral drugs used against the virus, Roche and GlaxoSmithKline.

"WHO would say categorically that it believes that it has not been subject to undue conflict-of-interest. We know that some experts that come to our committees have contact with industry. It would be surprising if they didn't because the best experts are sought by all organizations," Hartl said. "We feel that the guidelines produced were certainly not subject to undue influence."

Several other experts also defended the agency. (ANI)

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