Under-fire public health chief receives support from colleagues, and PM

Mika Salminen has been under increasing pressure from critics including some sectors of the media and politics.

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File picture of THL's Mika Salminen at a press briefing in Helsinki, 15th April 2020 / Credit: Lauri Heikkinen, VNK

The public health official who has become the face of Finland’s fight against coronavirus has found himself also the target of criticism of some politicians, sections of the media and scientific critics over his handling of the crisis.

Professor Mika Salminen, Director of Health Security at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare THL, has been variously accused of favouring a herd immunity strategy which is said will lead to lots more deaths; losing the trust of his THL colleagues; basing his advice on opinions rather than scientific facts; not releasing enough information; and in one scathing editorial column in Ilta-Sanomat newspaper this week he was was strongly criticised for having too much power as an un-elected official.

The Director General of THL Markku Tervahuata has hit back at critics with a statement on social media defending his colleague Salminen.

“Mika Salminen has the full support of the THL community. His assessments of the coronavirus are not ‘only opinions’ but are based on researched knowledge. We hope that Salminen will be able to continue his official work without undue criticism” says Tervehauta.

“THL’s mission is to produce researched information to support decision-making. The work of our experts is based on independence. Our researchers and experts do not make political decisions” he continues.

Tervehauta noted that in the unprecedented and fast-moving coronavirus epidemic, decisions have to be made quickly, based on the best available evidence, and that “unjustified public criticism of researchers and organisations gnaws at people’s trust in the information being researched and leaves room for rumours and misinformation.”

The message from Director General Tervehauta was shared online by Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) who said that the Finnish health authorities were doing valuable work in the middle of the crisis and under extreme pressures.

“Authorities’ policies can be critically assessed and critiqued. However, the politicitization of of the authorities is not appropriate.”

For his part Mika Salminen has thanked people for their words of support, and says he “will not continue to respond to injusticies.”