ROME (AP) – An author of a World Health Organization report withdrawn in Italy in a coronovirus response warned its bosses in May that people could die and that the UN agency could suffer “devastating” reputational damage if She allowed political concerns to suppress the document, according to emails seen by the Associated Press.
The comprehensive report examined how the Italian government and health system reacted after the country became the epicenter of the European outbreak in late February. What worked and didn’t work with real-time data and case studies. It was intended to help other countries formulate the virus as a globally spread virus, but it struck a sensitive nerve among Italian authorities as it noted that Italy went into crisis with an out-dated pandemic plan.
On 28 May, the day after the agency posted it on its website, the officer tasked with direct appeals to WHO chief Tedros Adenholm Ghebreyes signaled and warned that the disappearance of the report was undermined by WHO’s credibility Was judged He cautioned that any further attempts at censorship would compromise the agency’s independence and its relationship with donor nations funding the research.
The handling of the report could lead to “a massive scandal – at a critical moment for the UN Health Agency with the upcoming COVID-19 investigation”, wrote WHO’s chief field coordinator for Italy and Francesco Zambon during the epidemic .
The WHO said in a statement on Saturday that Zambon “expressed his views to many people and he was controlled through appropriate channels.”
According to internal WHO documents overseen by the AP, the report, written by a team of Zambon and WHO public health experts and consultants, was posted on 13 May after obtaining the necessary approvals within the UN system. The agency later said that it was withdrawn due to “factual inaccuracies”, but it did not elaborate it and denied that it had received any pressure from the Italian government to remove it.
In the face of criticism that the report deprived countries of data that could help them avoid Italy’s fate, the WHO said on Monday that it offered another “mechanism” to assess pandemic responses. But it was not rolled out until two months after that report was pulled.
Concerns over the missing report have increased in recent weeks, criticizing the leadership of the WHO for its global response to the epidemic, which led the agency to agree to an independent investigation into its performance..
The United Nations agency has been publicly critical of countries that are top donors, even when their policies may undermine public health.
During the initial stages of the outbreak in January, for example, WHO officials were privately disappointed by the lack of information It is being shared by China, but publicly praised the country for its transparency. As the epidemic in Europe progressed, WHO scientists internally questioned Britain’s policies – such as when he suggested it would pursue “herd immunity” – but publicly emphasized his support.
The missing report has thrown a light on preparations in Italy, where Europe’s deadliest outbreak was revealed. In the hard-hit province of Bergamo, prosecutors seized it as part of their investigation into what went wrong.
Paradoxically, the report also does not specifically criticize the Italian government and credits the authorities for their efforts, praising at one point that they have “sensationalized a display of disagreement in talk shows” with the data Showed, which caused anxiety.
The text noted that the Italian Ministry of Health had not updated its influenza pandemic preparedness plan since 2006. The 2006–2017 plan was merely “reconfirmed” without updating and “was more theoretical than practical.”
“The hospital’s initial response was not improved due to the flood of critically ill patients, chaotic and creative,” the report said. “It took some time for formal guidance to be available.”
Italy’s state-run RAI television investigative “report” program has published emails showing that a top WHO official, Raniaro Guerra, who worked as a liaison with the Italian government during the epidemic, told Zambon “Corrected” stated that Italy’s preparation plan was “updated” in 2016, even though the 2016 version was the same as in 2006.
Guerra was in charge of prevention at the Italian Ministry of Health from 2014 to 2017, when the plan should have been overhauled. He himself wrote to the then Health Minister that according to a copy of the 2017 memo seen by AP, the plan needed to be updated.
The WHO has said that Italy’s government “without time” asked it to remove the report, which it now says it does not support. “The decision to remove the document from the website was taken by the WHO’s regional office for Europe due to factual inaccuracies,” the WHO said.
Zambon says the only inaccuracy in China was an old date of the virus that he quickly corrected and new copies were printed. The WHO on Saturday defended the withdrawal of the report altogether.
“We, of course, focus solely on saving lives, but the published material needs to be accurate and grounded,” said the WHO.
Guerra told the Financial Times that he did not interfere. He said that the 2006 preparedness plan did not really need to be updated because no significant flu strains had been identified since then and that the preparedness plan was not relevant to the current pandemic because it would only cover influenza Was for
The Deputy Health Minister, Piarpolo Cilari, begs to disagree. “The plan was in place since 2006 and needed to be updated,” Cilari told Corriere della Serra Papers. Guerra did not immediately respond to AP’s questions, saying he was traveling.
Emails seen by the AP suggest WHO officials were concerned that the report had upset Italians, offering rare insights into decisions by the UN agency not subject to Freedom of Information requests.
In an email to Zambon on May 13, Guerra mentioned that Italy had voluntarily donated only 10 million euros ($ 12.3 million) to the WHO, and negotiations between the WHO and Italy were to begin to finance the agency’s Venice office .
“There are already signs of institutional upheaval from Italy and unnecessary resentment against the WHO,” Guerra wrote to Zambon on 14 May, the day the report was rescinded.
A day later, the head of WHO Europe, Drs. Hans Schelluse wrote to Zambon that the “major issue” at stake in the dispute was his relationship with the Italian Health Minister, Roberto Spernza, who said he was “disappointed”. reported by.
The Italian government said, they felt “they are constantly attacked by the press and that every word can be misinterpreted. They felt that the friend had stepped in.”
Klugay said he would propose the Spranza, including Italian health officials, in reviewing the report. “We need MoH (Ministry of Health) to be happy and sign off for Venice,” he said, referring to funding for the office.
The ministry told Rai that it did not consider the report to be official.
Meanwhile, Zambon was warning Tedros and Cluj that life was being risked worldwide by stopping Italy’s “learned lesson”.
Zambon wrote on May 27, Kluge wrote, “A large team of experts worked day and night with an inspiration: making sure that what happened in Italy is not repeated over time in those countries.” Different from the facts on the work (many things) and blind spots of the system. ”
A day later, in a message to the WHO chief, Zambon warned of the risk of “catastrophic damage in terms of independence and if the ‘censored’ version of the above-mentioned publication has been revised, along with” compromised “relations The government of Kuwait, one of the largest donors to WHO, funded the research with a grant of $ 80 million.
AP Medical writer Maria Cheng in Toronto and writer Jamie Keaton in Geneva contributed.
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