The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced the proposed members of new scientific panel that will advise it on the development of a global framework to define and guide studies into the origins of emerging and re-emerging pathogens of epidemic and pandemic potential, including COVID-19.
The group, known as WHO Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO), consists of 26 proposed members selected from more than 700 applications.
According to the WHO, the proposed members have expertise in a range of areas, including epidemiology, animal health, ecology, clinical medicine, virology, genomics, molecular epidemiology, molecular biology, biology, food safety, biosafety, biosecurity, and public health with a membership that reflects geographic and gender diversity.
The members would be confirmed after a two-week public consultation period for WHO to receive
In its capacity as an advisory body to WHO, the SAGO will advise WHO on the development of a WHO global framework to define and guide studies into the origins of emerging and re-emerging pathogens of epidemic and pandemic potential; advise WHO on prioritizing studies and field investigations into the origins of emerging and re-emerging pathogens of epidemic and pandemic potential, as well as provide information and views to assist the WHO Secretariat in the development of a detailed work plan of the SAGO.
On COVID-19, SAGO is to provide the WHO Secretariat with an independent evaluation of all available scientific and technical findings from global studies on the origins of SARS-CoV-2; advise the WHO Secretariat regarding developing, monitoring and supporting the next series of studies into the origins of SARS-CoV-2, among other functions.
WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said, “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, “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.”
Alexandra Phelan, a lawyer at Georgetown University who specializes in global health, was quoted by Science as saying, “This is an incredibly impressive group of experts with relatively good gender and geographic representation.”
She further stated that, “Given historical inequities, international expert groups like this really should be aiming for more than 42% women.”
Phelan who applied for the panel herself stated that SAGO’s terms of reference also included expertise in ethics and social sciences, or other activities that are related to disease outbreaks, adding that, from the information available so far, the group seems to fall short on expertise in these areas.
WHO hopes that establishing a permanent panel will take some of the heat out of the current COVID-19 origin debate and make future investigations of new pathogens feel more standard.
SAGO’s broad focus will be on where, why, and how dangerous animal pathogens infect humans, what can be done to reduce such spillover events, and how to stop them from becoming major outbreaks.