Coronavirus Pandemic

Covid-19: WHO seeks experts for pandemic prevention group

Filed on August 20, 2021

Panel to play vital role in next phase of investigations into how the SARS CoV-2 virus first jumped into humans.

The World Health Organisation called Friday for experts to advise on the scientific steps needed when facing new dangerous pathogens with the potential to spark pandemics like Covid-19

The UN health agency launched a call for nominations of experts across a wide range of fields, including virology, veterinary medicine and laboratory safety and security, to join its new permanent International Scientific Advisory Group for Origins of Novel Pathogens, or SAGO.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the creation of the group last month, stressing that it would "play a vital role" in the next phase of investigations into how the SARS CoV-2 virus behind Covid-19 first jumped into humans.

But he stressed in a closed-door briefing with member states Thursday that the new group was about much more than the current pandemic.

"It is a long-term initiative to support studies into the origins of any and all future emerging pathogens," he said, pointing out that the virus behind the Covid pandemic was only the latest high-threat pathogen to emerge, following the likes of SARS, MERS, Ebola and Marburg.

Disease X

The first phase of the Covid origins probe saw a team of international experts go to Wuhan earlier this year.

WHO's technical lead on Covid-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, stressed to AFP that the new advisory group would not be responsible for organising possible future missions in the hunt for the pandemic origins.

She said the experts would be asked to provide "an independent evaluation of where we are on the scientific findings, the technical findings of all available data, all available studies into the global search for SARS CoV-2".

And they would be asked to advise the WHO on how to move forward with the second phase of the origins probe.

Van Kerkove stressed though that SAGO's role was "long term", helping to streamline the process for dealing with dangerous new pathogens, many of which may already be waiting in the wings.

"We believe that the next Disease X is out there."

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