WHO plans pandemic prevention study of COVID’s origins


The World Health Organization has set up a new scientific group to study the origins of COVID-19 in the hope that it will help prevent future pandemics.

The new Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO) will bring together experts from areas such as epidemiology, animal health, clinical medicine, virology and genomics.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “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.

“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.”

The 26 proposed SAGO members, selected from more than 700 applications and drawn from a geographically diverse pool, will now be subject to a two-week consultation on their participation.

Once in place SAGO will advise the WHO on any future missions it organises, in conjunction with another country, as the UN agency seeks to ensure the world is better prepared for any future ‘Disease X’

As part of that work the WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19 Dr Maria Van Kerkhove said she anticipated that SAGO would recommend further studies in China, and potentially elsewhere, to understand the origins of the new coronavirus.

The move comes as the pandemic’s global death toll fell to its lowest level in almost a year, according to WHO figures.

“But it’s still an unacceptably high level – almost 50,000 deaths a week, and the real number is certainly higher,” Ghebreyesus said during his regular WHO briefing from Geneva earlier this week.

“Deaths are declining in every region except Europe, where several countries are facing fresh waves of cases and deaths. And of course, deaths are highest in the countries and populations with the least access to vaccines.”