AN INDEPENDENT inquiry should look at Australia's swine flu pandemic response, including whether expert advisers had conflicts of interest involving drug companies, an infectious disease expert has said.

Professor Peter Collignon from the Australian National University said pharmaceutical companies could have influenced the government's response to the pandemic last year, especially if its advisers had worked with the industry.

He said the government should release the names of all the advisers it relied on during the pandemic, including their previous and current dealings with pharmaceutical companies to ensure transparency.

''A lot of people who make decisions indirectly are involved in pharmaceutical companies doing the research for them or whatever, so it's very difficult to separate conflicts of interests in the decision makers,'' Professor Collignon said. ''What we need is very transparent dealings. Those on the committees making decisions, we need to know who they are and the details of what contacts they have with the pharmaceutical industry.''

The call came as the World Health Organisation revealed that five of its 15 pandemic experts had received support from the industry, including for flu vaccine research.

A spokeswoman for the Federal Department of Health said she would not name the more than 50 experts who had contributed to the government's response because it was standard practice for them ''to agree to confidentiality and conflict of interest provisions''.

The spokeswoman said a thorough review of Australia's response, including lessons learned, would be made public. She would not say whether the review would be independent.

After repeated calls for the WHO to release the details of its advisers, it published a list of the 15 members of its emergency committee headed by Australian tropical diseases professor John Mackenzie - the only member named during the outbreak.

The advisers came from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin and North America, the list posted on the WHO's website showed.

Most were scientific researchers and epidemiologists, along with a Senegalese diplomat, public health officials from Thailand and Chile and two specialists on international air travel and health.

Critics had raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest that might have helped the drugs industry influence decisions on huge orders for special vaccines against A(H1N1) flu.

The WHO has always denied those claims, underlining that it had vetted members and maintained secrecy over their identities to protect them from undue pressure during the outbreak.

Source: The Age

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Related Links:
* List of Members of, and Advisor to, the International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee concerning Influenza Pandemic (H1N1) 2009
Information Release, World Health Organisation
* WHO Releases Conflicted Swine Flu Pandemic Panel Members List
Ed Silverman, Pharmalot
* WHO And The Pandemic Flu Conspiracies
Deborah Cohen & Philip Carter, British Medical Journal

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