The 2009 Swine Flu Pandemic (H1N1) swept the globe, lasting some 20 months. It was the second of two pandemics involving the H1N1 influenza strain – the first having hit during 1918-20 in what is now known as the Spanish Flu pandemic.
In the years following the pandemic, the World Health Organisation (WHO) faced fierce criticism over its handling of the situation.
Some medical experts doubted whether the H1N1 outbreak was really a pandemic at all.
Dr Wolfgang Wodarg, a German doctor and former member of parliament, had been watching the spread of swine flu in Mexico City – where the virus was first recorded – and was puzzled at the reaction of the WHO.
In 2010, he said: “What we experienced in Mexico City was a very mild flu which did not kill more than usual – which killed even fewer people than usual.
“This was suddenly, a fast-spreading mild flu, a pandemic.
“But this is not the definition of a pandemic I learned, which has to be severe, with a much higher than usual death rate.”
Dr Wodarg eventually launched an inquiry into the Swine Flu pandemic and the WHO’s dealings with the pharmaceutical industry in the lead up to the N1H1 pandemic.
At a council meeting, Mr Wodarg declared that “all the business deals that had been prepared between individual countries and the pharmaceutical companies were about to be triggered by the WHO”.
This description was given six weeks before the WHO changed its criteria for a level 6 pandemic, deleting “severity of illness” from the requirement of a pandemic phase.
It was thus made easier to enter the world into a serious global pandemic.
Ms Franck spoke to German Velasquez, a former WHO Director in the Public Health Department, who served during the Swine Flu pandemic.
He said: “It was publicised around the world, that the criteria for declaring a pandemic were changed and at the same time the old guidelines vanished from the WHO website.”
Ms Franck asked: “Could they have declared the pandemic level 6 also with the old definition?”
Mr Velasquez: “No, because the severity, the number of deaths, would have been a factor.
“Since that was no longer one of the criteria, it made it easier to declare a pandemic.”
As a result of the pandemic entering a level 6 phase, the European Council later concluded that: “According to analysts, the WHO initiated spending on health measures around $18billion (£14billion) worldwide.”
Ms Franck also spoke to Mr Wodarg and he revealed how the WHO had grown into a culture of secrecy and “clandestine” operations.
He said: “The situation was evaluated correspondingly by the Council of Europe.
“Reprimand was issued.
“The lack of transparency, the role of the experts who were being paid by the pharmaceutical industry.
“Then changes were demanded but the WHO didn’t respond to the Council of Europe – the WHO turned up for the first hearing and then didn’t come again.
“It didn’t have to, it wasn’t obliged to supply us with any information.
“We can’t demand to confiscate the files, look through them; it is impossible, there isn’t anybody who can do those things.
“And there’s no investigating commission like in Parliament where the MPs can go and say something has to stop and then everybody has to turn up and show their files, there’s nothing like that.
“The WHO can operate in a very clandestine fashion.”