WHO critic of Italy's handling of COVID-19 resigns following 'pressure'

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A World Health Organisation scientist who spoke out about the UN body’s withdrawal of a report on Italy’s early handling of the coronavirus pandemic has resigned, reports The Guardian. Francesco Zambon, who is based at the WHO’s office in Venice, confirmed he resigned due to the situation becoming professionally “unsustainable”, after he alleged that he was pressured by a senior WHO official to hide the fact that Italy had not updated its pandemic plan since 2006.

The report says Zambon declined to comment further but said his resignation would take effect from 31 March.

Italy was the first European country to become engulfed by the pandemic and Zambon was tasked with leading the production of a report, funded by the government of Kuwait, on the country’s response that was intended to provide information to countries yet to be affected.

In the report, which was published on the WHO’s website on 13 May before being removed the next day, Zambon wrote that Italy’s pandemic plan had not been updated since 2006 and that, due to being unprepared, the initial response from hospitals was “improvised, chaotic and creative”.

The Guardian reports that the document was allegedly removed at the request of Ranieri Guerra, the WHO’s assistant director general for strategic initiatives. Guerra was the director general for preventive health at the Italian health ministry between 2014 and late 2017,and was therefore responsible for updating the pandemic plan as per new guidelines laid out by the WHO and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Zambon claimed in an interview in December that Guerra threatened him with dismissal unless he modified the part of the text referring to the outdated plan. He alleged that despite informing senior WHO officials of the threats and risks posed to the organisation’s transparency and neutrality, no internal inquiry was carried out.

The Guardian reports that the WHO did not explain why the report was removed but said in a statement in December that it “contained inaccuracies and inconsistencies”.

 

Full report in The Guardian (Open access)

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