WHO unveils new pandemic pathogen sleuth squad


GENEVA: The World Health Organisation unveiled Wednesday a proposed team of scientists tasked with looking at new pathogens and preventing future pandemics — plus reviving the stalled probe into COVID-19’s origins.

The group of 26 experts will be charged with producing a new global framework for studies into the origins of emerging pathogens of epidemic and pandemic potential. Their remit includes SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 disease.

Besides the COVID-19 crisis, a growing number of high-risk pathogens have appeared or reappeared in recent years, including MERS, bird flu viruses, Lassa, Marburg and Ebola.

The WHO announced earlier this year that it would set up a Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO).

“The emergence of new viruses with the potential to spark epidemics and pandemics is a fact of nature, and while SARS-CoV-2 is the latest such virus, it will not be the last,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“Understanding where new pathogens come from is essential for preventing future outbreaks with epidemic and pandemic potential and requires a broad range of expertise.

“We are very pleased with the calibre of experts selected for SAGO from around the world, and look forward to working with them to make the world safer.”

The 26 proposed members, chosen from a field of more than 700 applications and drawn from a range of disciplines, are subject to a two-week public consultation.

They include Christian Drosten, the head of Berlin’s Institute of Virology.

Some of the experts were on the joint WHO-China scientific mission investigating the origins of Covid-19: Marion Koopmans of the Netherlands, and Hung Nguyen from Vietnam.

According to the terms of reference, the group must give the WHO an independent evaluation of all available scientific and technical findings from global studies on the origins of COVID-19.

It must also advise the UN health agency on developing, monitoring and supporting the next series of studies into the origins of the virus, including “rapid advice” on the WHO’s operational plans to implement the next series of studies into the pandemic’s origins and advise on additional studies.

The WHO believes it is vitally important to uncover the origins of the worst pandemic in a century.

It is known to have killed more than 4.85 million people and has battered the global economy since the virus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019.