Memorandum by: Paul Flynn, Parliamentary Assembly, UK
23 March 2010
44. The recent debate on H1N1, notably at a European level, has shown that the situation relating to this influenza is characterised by a high degree of uncertainty. The rapporteur is convinced that the way in which the H1N1 crisis has been handled is lacking in transparency. Certain facts have never been communicated to the European public; others have not been presented clearly enough. Even in this advanced stage of debate, and notwithstanding the lack of transparency has been pointed out on various occasions, some stakeholders are still not ready to react fully to allegations made and make all possible information available.
45. Concluding this first round of reflection on the way in which the H1N1 pandemic was handled, the rapporteur notes that WHO and other public health institutions involved in public decisions on the pandemic, have ‘gambled away’ some of the confidence that the European public has in these highly reputed organisations. This decline in confidence could be risky in the future. When the next pandemic arises many persons may not give full credibility to recommendations put forward by WHO and other bodies. They may refuse to be vaccinated and may put their own health and lives at risk.
46. The rapporteur considers that any further investigation should focus on the question of how to strengthen and render irreproachable the surveillance mechanisms in place within and around WHO. It is essential in this respect to ensure the Organisation’s democratic accountability and transparency of decisionmaking in relation to its work, and finally to re-increase public confidence in WHO’s recommendations. There are important lessons to be learned for the future from the current H1N1 pandemic and the way in which it has been dealt with.
47. The search for improvements should firstly be undertaken through inter-organisational dialogues at national, European and international level. In this respect, the rapporteur welcomes the willingness of WHO and other organisations to participate in the public hearings and debates organised by the Parliamentary Assembly, and hopes that they will continue this dialogue with a view to pursuing the common objective of preparing for future public health situations where the same issues, including those of transparency, might be raised.
48. In parallel, national public health authorities of Council of Europe member states should also contribute to rendering public health decisions more transparent and accountable. This they should do by addressing some of these highly sensitive issues at national level, and by participating in relevant exchanges at the European level. One of the issues to be examined is the democratic control of international organisations such as WHO through relevant bodies (World Health Assembly, Regional Committees of WHO, etc.).
49. There are numerous organisations and institutions at international, European and national level which have been concerned by pandemic preparedness planning and the implementation of subsequent vaccination strategies. Amongst these, the Parliamentary Assembly provides a European platform where issues relating to human rights, the rule of law and democracy can be raised. In this function, the Parliamentary Assembly could remain a moderator and partner in debates. Beyond consideration of sensitive issues related to the current H1N1 crisis, and in consideration of the vast amount of work on common topics which are already the subject of exchanges between WHO and the Council of Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly could even provide a parliamentary forum for regular debates on the activities of WHO. By comparison, there is a yearly institutional dialogue between the Assembly and the Organisation for the Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Similarly there are regular reports of the Assembly on the activities of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and on the International Organization for Migration.