Italy’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been ‘improvised’ and ‘chaotic’ according to a World Health Organization report which was removed from the body’s website just hours after its publication in May.
The assessment titled “An unprecedented challenge, Italy’s first response to Covid-19” was carried out by a group of pan-European scientists from the WHO led by Francesco Zambon, based in Venice.
It was posted on the WHO website on May 13, including an introduction written by WHO European Director Hans Kluge, but was deleted the next day. WHO did not issue any public statement at the time to indicate that it had withdrawn the report or to explain why.
According to the 102-page document, viewed by the Financial Times, Italy’s decentralized approach to public health policy, along with delays in testing and screening for potential Covid-19 infections, have helped worsen the outcome of the first phase of the pandemic.
“Unprepared for such a flood of critically ill patients, the initial response from hospitals was improvised, chaotic and creative,” the report says.
In a written response to the FT, the WHO said the document was withdrawn by the WHO European Office because it contained “factual errors in certain data and statistics”, but declined to provide specific details. .
“While offline, a decision was made to instead use a new mechanism created in the early months of the pandemic to help Member States conduct intra-action reviews and assess their Covid responses. -19, ”the WHO said. “The document was therefore not republished.”
Mr Zambon, the lead author of the report, took issue with WHO’s assertion that errors in the assessment meant that it should be withdrawn. “Never in nine months have I been informed of this report. . . has inaccuracies and inconsistencies, ”he said in a written statement to the FT. “Before publishing even a short article on the Internet, there are several levels of approval [at WHO] and commentary sets to ensure the technical soundness and consistency of the business. “
Italy was the first country outside of China to be affected by the pandemic, with a death toll exceeding 35,000 in the outbreak’s first wave. The report, funded by a grant from Kuwait, was intended to provide guidance to countries that were not affected at the time.
According to three WHO officials, who asked not to be identified, the report was formally approved by the institution before publication, during a meeting in Geneva on May 11 chaired by Sylvie Briand, director of emergency preparedness. WHO global infectious risks. Ms Briand did not respond to a request for comment made via the WHO.
The document, which was the first to exist reported According to Italian television program Rai Report, the Italian government’s pandemic response plan was only “reconfirmed” in 2016. Italian government officials previously said the plan had been fully updated this year. -the.
Ranieri Guerra, who as chief medical officer of the Italian Ministry of Health from 2014 to 2017 was responsible for the plan, is now one of the 14 deputy directors-general of the WHO. He is also currently a member of the Italian government’s scientific working group on Covid-19. Mr Guerra declined to comment for this article, referring all questions to the WHO.
Prosecutors in Bergamo, the epicenter of the Covid-19 epidemic in Italy during the first wave, are already investigating whether errors at the local and national levels contributed to the catastrophic impact of the pandemic in the region.
Mr Guerra was questioned by prosecutors in Bergamo last month, but other WHO officials, including the authors of the report, have yet to comply with court orders to appear.
“National authorities recently informed WHO of court rulings issued by the Bergamo prosecutor’s office. We have formally requested additional information, ”WHO told FT.
Guerra had spoken to prosecutors “in a personal capacity” before the court’s formal rulings were received, the WHO said. “To preserve its objectivity and independence, WHO does not normally get involved in legal matters at the national level,” he said.