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Ontario’s Top Doc Taking Part In WHO H1N1 Meeting

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Arlene King, is among 29 international experts examining the World Health Organization’s response to the H1N1 virus.

Critics have charged the international body created unnecessary fear when it declared the swine flu a pandemic and others allege decisions made regarding H1N1 were influenced by commercial interests.

WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan is calling for a “frank and critical” review of how the organization handled the new flu strain.

“This has been the most closely watched and carefully scrutinized pandemic in history. This gives us a vast body of scientific, clinical, and epidemiological data to assess,” Chan said.

A three-day meeting of the 29-member panel begins Monday in Geneva, Switzerland. King headed up national pandemic planning for the Public Health Agency of Canada before she became Ontario’s chief medical officer of health last year.

While the H1N1 strain caused fear around the world, it turned out to be no more deadly than seasonal flu outbreaks. The WHO is being criticized for declaring the swine flu outbreak a “pandemic”, despite the fact many governments urged it not to do so, fearing that label would spark unnecessary fear.

The United Nations health agency did declare the swine flu a pandemic. It insists the term pandemic means a new strain is circulating around the world and doesn’t indicate the severity or danger of that bug.

Related: Surge In Demand At H1N1 Clinics, Emergency Rooms (Oct. 28, 2009)

Approximately 17,700 swine flu deaths have been confirmed around the world over the past year.

On Monday the WHO once again defended its use of the term pandemic, but did acknowledge it may have caused confusion.

During the three-day summit, the scientists and public health officials are expected to try and work out a better way to convey the magnitude of risk of new viruses.