Throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) has faced widespread scrutiny for its handling of related data — and prosecutors in Italy are now adding to that narrative.
According to U.S. News & World Report, prosecutors claim the WHO misrepresented the truth about Italy’s COVID-19 response in a report that was removed a short time after it was posted in May. The revelation could lead to more international embarrassment for the global health body.
Italian official embroiled in controversy
Dr. Ranieri Guerra, the organization’s assistant director-general, volunteered to be questioned in November on the topic. Now, prosecutors are investigating him and five others for allegedly making false statements in conjunction with the report, which claimed that Italy had not updated its pandemic preparedness plan since 2006.
Guerra had been a high-ranking member of the Italian health ministry between 2014 and 2017, during which time the plan should have been updated. He was also the liaison to the WHO after the nation became the epicenter of the worldwide viral outbreak last year.
For its part, the WHO acknowledged that the report in question was removed due to “factual inaccuracies.” Guerra added that he expected the organization to respond to the allegations against him and declined to make a statement on his own behalf.
As of the latest updates available, Guerra has not been charged with any crime but remains stunned and “deeply embittered” over the investigation into his actions and statements. Some of the allegations against him date back to at least December, The Guardian notes.
Italian investigators are also looking into the country’s massive death toll, particularly within the city of Bergamo, during an initial wave of the virus in hopes of determining whether lack of preparedness was a contributing factor.
“I went to Tedros”
They also want to know whether the WHO report was taken down to avoid embarrassing Italy and whether Guerra and others lied about their motivations.
Among the evidence reportedly uncovered during the investigation are chat messages that appear to provide insight into the maneuvers used to remove the report.
“In the end I went to Tedros and got the document removed,” Guerra reportedly wrote to Dr. Silvio Brusaferro, another top health official.
Tedros is an apparent reference to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general who denies any involvement in the decision to remove the document. Four days after that message, Guerra reportedly wrote another message about revising the report, allegedly leading the ministry office to “see if we can make it fall into thin air.”
Additional emails appear to show that Guerra tried to change another report to say that Italy had updated its pandemic response plan in 2016. Dr. Francesco Zambon, an author of the report, has reportedly issued a whistleblower complaint claiming that he had faced pressure from Guerra.