Follow-up on WHO report about Italian pandemic response

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You may remember our stories on the censorship of a WHO report critical of the Italian response to the first wave of the pandemic. Briefly posted by the WHO on its website, then immediately taken down and never republished, the report, while altogether praising Italy’s efforts, described the initial Italian response as “chaotic and disorganized.” Last week, one of the most authoritative medical and scientific publications in the world, The Lancet, went beyond that qualification. In the piece, ‘Recognising Italy’s mistakes in the public health response to COVID-19’, the authors allude to “institutional omerta” from the Italian authorities, concluding that “the national government and regional government of Lombardy’s decision to not create a so-called red zone around Alzano Lombardo and Nembro (blocking off entrance to and exit from the two communes) when COVID-19 was discovered in people at the end of February, 2020, is seen to be directly responsible for the spread of infection to other towns throughout the province of Bergamo, particularly the Seriana Valley”—in short, confirming the assessment of WHO’s spiked report.

Particularly interesting also is the concluding paragraph of The Lancet’s piece: “The contribution of anthropologists to documenting and analyzing the social and political effects of epidemiological events has been crucial for other infectious diseases (eg, Ebola virus disease and AIDS)—for example, in Africa.” The piece claims that “Transdisciplinary research” produces evidence that “is key for institutions to identify and address mistakes in public health response, which is needed to support communities to prepare for future infectious threats, as recommended by WHO’s Community Preparedness Unit.”

In essence, the WHO report written by Francesco Zambon and his team did exactly that. It was an extraordinarily helpful and important document, recognized as such by the OMS. In documenting Italy’s response and sharing it publicly so early in the pandemic, the intention was to help others better respond to this devastating pandemic. And yet, it was Zambon and his team who were made into villains by their own organization—an organization, evidence now shows, whose leadership caved in from political pressure, including from the Italian Government. The Bergamo investigation into the response to the pandemic is expected to end soon. According to Italian press reports, indictments might be forthcoming in the next few weeks.