THE virtually untouched piles of drugs held by many governments for use against a swine flu pandemic that never happened last year have recently been the subject of considerable comment. Was it right to follow a policy of “better safe than sorry” and stock up in line with advice from the World Health Organisation, or were governments like Poland's which did not trust the advice the wiser ones?

A new dimension was added to the controversy yesterday when a report released by the Council of Europe revealed that the World Health Organisation's advice was to some extent written by three university professors who had previously been paid for research or other work by the two main manufactures of the anti-flu drugs, Roche, the makers of Tamiflu, and GlaxoSmith KIine, who produced Relenza. Although the payments in question were made some two or three years before WHO began to issue warnings about swine flu based on the specialists' advice, there will inevitably be concern that either directly or indirectly this advice was affected to some degree by its authors' connections with the drug companies. The American specialist Dr Fred Hayden was one of the main authors of a Roche-sponsored study that backed Roche's main claim for Tamiflu -- a 60 per cent reduction in hospitalisations. Cases of this kind are not always as clear cut as they seem. WHO's response is awaited.