WHO under fire for removal of report on Italian Covid-19 response

·2-min read

A report titled “An Unprecedented Challenge: Italy’s First Response to Covid-19” was published on the World Health Organization (WHO) website on May 13 but taken down one day after publication. In recent days, new information about the report has been revealed and claims Italy failed to manage the Covid-19 crisis when it first emerged.

The comprehensive 102-page report examined how the Italy government and health system responded to the coronavirus outbreak, which started in February, and soon became the epicentre in Europe.

The study was funded by the government of Kuwait with the aim of providing information to other countries that were yet to be affected by the pandemic and prevent as high a death toll as the one suffered by Italy.

Crisis management

Produced by WHO chief field coordinator for Italy, Francesco Zambon, who is based in Venice, with 10 other WHO public health experts and consultants across Europe, the report revealed Italy’s failure to manage the crisis properly at the beginning. It stated that the initial response by hospitals was “improvised and chaotic”

The report also pointed out that Italy’s Health Ministry had an out-of-date pandemic preparedness plan since 2006 that was simply reconfirmed ten years later without any additions.

The report was allegedly pulled from the WHO website at the request of Ranieri Guerra, one of the scientists on the Italian government’s Covid-19 taskforce and assistant director general for strategic initiatives at WHO.

Guerra was also the director general in charge of preventive health at the Ministry of Health in Italy between 2014 and 2017. It appears that he had told the then health minister that the pandemic preparedness plan needed to be updated.

TV investigation

However, in information that has more recently emerged through an Italian television investigation, e-mails were exchanged between Guerra and Zambon asking the latter to “correct” in report that Italian pandemic plan had indeed been updated. Guerra has also been reported to say that the plan did not require updating because no significant flu strains had been identified since then.

When the report was taken offline in May, Zambon made contact directly with the WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warning that the removal of the report would undermine the credibility of the WHO and cause scandal and reputational damage.

The World Health organization says it was never asked by the Italian government to remove the report from its website, adding that the decision to pull the document was taken by the WHO's Regional Office for Europe due to factual inaccuracies. But WHO scientist Zambon has said the only inaccuracy was an out-of-date timeline of the virus in China that was immediately corrected by him.