WHO counters charges it faked flu pandemic for Big Pharma

In a press conference on 14 January, Keiji Fukuda, the chief flu scientist at the World Health Organisation, responded to allegations WHO created a ‘fake’ influenza pandemic in collusion with powerful pharmaceutical companies to promote the sale of their patented vaccines.

The allegations were led in mid December last year by Wolfgang Wodarg, a German physician and former member of the German Parliament for the Social Democratic Party. In a statement he and other members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee declared: “In order to promote their patented drugs and vaccines against flu, pharmaceutical companies influenced scientists and official agencies, responsible for public health standards to alarm governments worldwide and make them squander tight health resources for inefficient vaccine strategies and needlessly expose millions of healthy people to the risk of an unknown amount of sideeffects of insufficiently tested vaccines.

“The ‘birds-flu’ campaign (2005/06) combined with the “swine-flu”-campaign seem to have caused a great deal of damage not only to some vaccinated patients and to public health-budgets, but to the credibility and accountability of important international health-agencies.“

Wodarg’s full statement is available online: www.wodarg.de/english/2948146.html

However, it is not clear what support Wodarg has, as according to the Science Insider blog only14 members of the 100-strong committee signed the statement. In response the WHO denied that they had faked the epidemic under the influence of Big Pharma to promote their vaccines.

In a statement the WHO said: “WHO recognizes that global cooperation with a range of partners, including the private sector, is essential to pursue public health objectives today and in the future. Numerous safeguards are in place to manage conflicts of interest or perceived conflicts of interest among members of WHO advisory groups and expert committees. Expert advisers provide a signed declaration of interests to WHO detailing any professional or financial interest that could affect the impartiality of their advice. WHO takes allegations of conflict of interest seriously and is confident of its decisionmaking independence regarding the pandemic influenza.

“Additional allegations that WHO created a ‘fake’ pandemic to bring economic benefit to industry are scientifically wrong and historically incorrect.”

The WHO notes the following:

● Lab analyses showed that this influenza virus was genetically and antigenically very different from other influenza viruses circulating among people

● Epidemiological information provided by Mexico, the US and Canada demonstrated person-to-person transmission.

● Clinical information, especially from Mexico, indicated this virus also could cause severe disease and death. At the time, those reports did not indicate a pandemic situation, but taken together sent a very strong warning to WHO and other public health authorities to be ready for one.

● As the pandemic evolved, clinicians identified a very severe form of primary viral pneumonia, which was rapidly progressive and frequently fatal, that is not part of the disease pattern seen during seasonal influenza. While these cases were relatively rare, they imposed a heavy burden on intensive care units.

● Geographical spread was exceptionally rapid.

● On 29 April 2009, WHO reported lab confirmed cases in 9 countries.

● About 6 weeks later, on 11 June, WHO reported cases in 74 countries and territories in more than two WHO regions. It is this global spread which led WHO to call for increasing phases and finally, to announce that a pandemic was underway.

● By 1 July, infections had been confirmed in 120 countries and territories.

Fukuda noted that the International Health Regulations – global public health rules and regulations that entered into force in 2007 – require a review of how the WHO handled the pandemic situation. He said that study will be carried with the help of independent experts and the results will be made public.

Philips wins 13 prestigious iF design awards

Philips has received 13 awards in the 2010 iF product design competition. The awards received, covering five categories, are in recognition of Philips’ people-focused design in creating valuable simplified solutions in the area of health and well-being.

In the Health and Care category, products for which the company received awards include:

● The PageWriter Cardiographs TC50/TC30 – a range of touch screen ECG readers. The easy to use devices are compact, integrating a full keyboard, colour LCD touch screen and full sized paper tray and printer.

● The Pediatric Emergency Department which makes use of Philips’s Ambient Experience to reduce stress with the use of lighting, sound, images. Patient rooms are embedded with digital sounds, lighting and animations that children can enjoy and control themselves.

● The Lifeline PERS Cordless Phone System provides a Personal Emergency Response Service (PERS) for frail, elderly seniors, enabling them to maintain their independence and continue living at home. The wearable personal help button and PERS telephone base station provides subscribers with a direct connection to the Lifeline service solution offering immediate assistance.

Philips also won awards in the Audio & Video; Kitchen/ Household; Lighting; and Advanced Studies categories. The prestigious iF design award is recognized worldwide with more than 20 internationally recognised jurors selecting the products.

Out of 2,486 products from 38 countries entered in the competition this year, the jury of the iF product design award has chosen a total of 778 products as the best designs for 2010. All prize-winning products will be presented at the iF design exhibition 2010 in Hanover, Germany, which opens on March 2 and runs until August this year.

US FDA moves to reduce exposure to medical radiation

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has introduced an initiative to reduce unnecessary radiation exposure from three types of medical imaging procedures: computed tomography (CT), nuclear medicine studies, and fluoroscopy. These procedures are the greatest contributors to total radiation exposure within the US population and use much higher radiation doses than other radiographic procedures, such as standard X-rays, dental X-rays, and mammography.

AuntMinnie <www.auntminnie.com> reports that the initiative could be in response to media reports of rising exposure to medical radiation in the US population.

CT, nuclear medicine, and fluoroscopic imaging have led to early diagnosis of disease, improved treatment planning, and image-guided therapies that help save lives every day. The FDA said in a statement that it continues to support a strong dialogue between patients and physicians over the medical necessity and risk associated with these types of imaging studies.

However, like all medical procedures, CT, nuclear medicine, and fluoroscopy pose risks. These types of imaging exams expose patients to ionizing radiation, a type of radiation that can increase a person’s lifetime cancer risk. Accidental exposure to very high amounts of radiation also can cause injuries, such as skin burns, hair loss and cataracts. The FDA points out that healthcare decisions made by patients and their physicians should include discussions of the medical need and associated risks for each procedure.

While remarking that the amount of radiation Americans are exposed to from medical imaging has dramatically increased over the past 20 years, Jeffrey Shuren, MD, JD, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health said: “The goal of FDA’s initiative is to support the benefits associated with medical imaging while minimizing the risks.” The FDA notes that while there is some disagreement over the extent of the cancer risk associated with exposure to radiation from medical imaging, there is broad agreement that steps can and should be taken to reduce unnecessary radiation exposure.

Gates Foundation commit $10bn for vaccine R&D

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will commit US$10 billion over the next 10 years to help research, develop and deliver vaccines for the world’s poorest countries, Bill Gates announced in late January at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos.

“We must make this the decade of vaccines,” said Gates. “Vaccines already save and improve millions of lives in developing countries. Innovation will make it possible to save more children than ever before.”

The foundation used a model developed by a consortium led by the Institute of International Programs at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to project the potential impact of vaccines on childhood deaths over the next 10 years.

By significantly scaling up the delivery of life-saving vaccines in developing countries to 90% coverage – including new vaccines to prevent severe diarrhoea and pneumonia – the model suggests that the deaths of some 7.6 million children under 5 from 2010-2019 could be prevented. The foundation also estimates that the lives of an additional 1.1 million children could be saved with the rapid introduction of a malaria vaccine beginning in 2014, bringing the total number of potential lives saved to 8.7 million.

Melinda Gates commented: “We’ve made vaccines our number-one priority at the Gates Foundation because we’ve seen firsthand their incredible impact on children’s lives.”

If additional vaccines are developed and introduced in this decade – such as for tuberculosis – even more lives could be saved.

The new funding is in addition to the $4.5 billion that the Gates Foundation has already committed to vaccine research, development and delivery to date across its entire disease portfolio since its inception.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said that many of the recent advances in vaccine development and delivery have been driven by public-private partnerships, such as the GAVI Alliance and the Rotavirus Vaccine Program at PATH, which coordinate the resources and expertise of vaccine companies, donors, UNICEF, WHO, the World Bank, and developing countries.

These partnerships are “transforming the business of vaccines”, Gates said. The GAVI Alliance, launched at the World Economic Forum 10 years ago, has reached 257 million additional children with new and underused vaccines, and prevented 5 million future deaths. In the coming years, GAVI will focus on rapidly introducing vaccines to tackle diarrhoea and pneumonia.

Isotopes shortage cause for concern

SNM, an international scientific and medical organisation which focuses on issues related to molecular imaging, has cautioned that a long-term solution is urgently needed to resolve the worldwide shortage of medical isotopes.

Although a short-term solution has been reached following a deal with the Maria Research Reactor in Poland which is estimated to be able to produce sufficient Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) to supply up to one million patient doses of Technetium- 99m (Tc-99m) within the next six months, there is concern that this is only a short-term solution.

“We are pleased by the level of international cooperation and coordination that is taking place to help resolve some of the continuing challenges that we face due to the ongoing medical isotope shortage,” said Michael M. Graham, PhD, MD, president of SNM. “This will help. However, we need to establish a stable source closer to the US.”

There are currently only five major producers of Mo-99 – the decay product of which is Tc-99m – in the world, with none in the United States. In the US, 16 million diagnostic medical tests are performed annually using Tc-99m to detect cancer, heart disease, thyroid disease and other serious conditions.

Robert W. Atcher, PhD, M.B.A, chair of SNM’s Domestic Isotope Availability Task Force, commented: “There may be some shortterm improvements for patients in Europe. However, this is only a short-term fix to a long-term problem.”

According to a statement by SNM, the reactor at Petten in the Netherlands was expected to go offline in February for a period of four to six months. Compounding problems, the Canadian government recently announced that the AECL reactor in Chalk River would remain offline at least through early April. The AECL reactor has been offline since May 2009 due to significant maintenance issues. Combined, the Petten and AECL reactors supply the US with more than 80% of its Mo-99 supply.

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