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Italy’s M5S sacks entire board of health experts, sparking political interference concerns

Italy’s M5S sacks entire board of health experts, sparking political interference concerns

Italy’s health minister has sacked the entire board of the Higher Health Council, the country’s most important committee of technical-scientific experts who advise the government on health policy. In a move on Monday night that shocked Italian scientists, Giulia Grillo, from the Five Star Movement – a vaccine-sceptic party that has supported unproven cures for…

Italy’s health minister has sacked the entire board of the Higher Health Council, the country’s most important committee of technical-scientific experts who advise the government on health policy.

In a move on Monday night that shocked Italian scientists, Giulia Grillo, from the Five Star Movement – a vaccine-sceptic party that has supported unproven cures for cancer – said it was “time to give space to the new”.

“We are the #governmentofchange and, as I have already done with the appointments of the various organs and committees of the ministry, I have chosen to open the door to other deserving personalities,” she wrote on Facebook.

The decision will mean the replacement of 30 board members the president, Roberta Siliquini, the head of the school of hygiene and preventive medicine at the University of Turin who was nominated in December 2017 by the former health minister Beatrice Lorenzin.

Siliquini told the Guardian that the move was concerning. “We are worried about why they have decided to remove people who were selected due to their experience and competencies at the highest level,” she said. “We are also worried about who will make up the next council and especially if the nominations are politically motivated.”

Other distinguished experts on the board include the geneticists Giuseppe Novelli and Bruno Dallapiccola, and pathologist Napoleone Ferrara. The members are nominated every three years and it is unusual for their mandates to be cut short.

Grillo did not explain the motive behind her decision and said in her post that some of the revoked board members “could be reappointed”, but “not the leaders … who must have the trust of and be in full harmony with the minister in charge”.

Siliquini said Grillo had the power to sack the board, but it was unusual. “It’s also unusual that in her communication she said some can remain but not the leaders … she doesn’t name me but it’s simple to understand,” Siliquini said.

Siliquini, who received a formal letter of her dismissal on Monday morning that contained no explanation, said that in the six months since Grillo became health minister the pair never met.

“We’re the organisation that helps them, from a scientific and technical point of view, to make decisions on policy,” said Siliquini. “But she never asked us anything during these six months, which was probably a strong signal.”

In 2013 the Five Star Movement was a vociferous supporter of Stamina, a controversial stem-cell therapy promoted by a psychologist who claimed it could perform miracles but was later proven to be a con.

Grillo has also caused confusion after making several U-turns on the government’s child vaccine policy. Her party, which is government in coalition with the far-right League, came to power pledging to reform a policy brought in by the previous administration making 10 vaccines mandatory.

Grillo then said in June that parents could “self-certify” that their children had been vaccinated, instead of providing a doctor’s note, causing mayhem at the start of the school year. Then in mid-November, amid a measles epidemic, the government said it would uphold the vaccines obligation while calling for 800,000 infants, children and young adults to be injected against the virus.

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