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WHO establishes new scientific group to study COVID origins

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday, October 13, 2021 launched an expert group that will examine the origins of new pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Photo credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

The proposed members of the WHO Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO) were selected for their expertise in areas such as epidemiology, animal health, clinical medicine, virology and genomics.

WHO chief, Dr Tedros  Ghebreyesus, announced this during his regular briefing from Geneva, Switzerland.

“SAGO will advise WHO on the development of a global framework to define and guide studies into the origins of emerging and re-emerging pathogens with epidemic and pandemic potential, including SARS-CoV-2.

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“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,” he said.

The 26 scientists come from several countries, and were selected from over 700 applications following a global call.

A two-week public consultation period will take place for WHO to receive feedback on the proposed SAGO members.

Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO Technical Lead on COVID-19, said the world must be better prepared for any future “Disease X”.

Responding to a journalist’s question, she anticipated that SAGO will recommend further studies in China, and potentially elsewhere, to understand the origins of the new coronavirus.

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While SAGO will advise WHO, any future missions will be organised by the UN agency and the country in question.

“I want to make it very clear that the SAGO is not the next mission team. There’s been some misrepresentation about that going forward,” she said.

By Cecilia Ologunagba

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