WHO announces committee to probe COVID-19 pandemic origins


    The World Health Organization (WHO) announced 26 proposed members to an advisory committee aimed to steer studies into the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic and other pathogens of epidemic potential.

    The Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO) marks the global health agency’s latest attempt to unravel the beginnings of the coronavirus pandemic nine months after sending experts to China. In March, the WHO had released its report on the origins of the coronavirus, with the research team listing introduction through an intermediary host followed by zoonotic transmission as “likely to very likely” the root of initial spread, and introduction through a laboratory incident as “extremely unlikely.”


    Overall, without a definitive conclusion as to how the virus made its way into the human population, the team, which comprised of international experts, had called for “a continued scientific and collaborative approach to be taken towards tracing the origins of COVID-19.”  

    “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,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said in a statement issued Wednesday. “Understanding where new pathogens come from is essential for preventing future outbreaks with epidemic and pandemic potential, and requires a broad range of expertise.”

    The WHO noted the dozens of proposed members were selected from a pool of over 700 applications. The 26 members have expertise in fields such as “epidemiology, animal health, ecology, clinical medicine, virology, genomics,” among others.

    “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,” Tedros said.

    There will be a two-week public consultation period for the WHO to receive feedback on the proposed SAGO members and set in place modalities for its first meeting following the consultation period.


    In its capacity as an advisory body to WHO, the SAGO will advise the organization 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, as well as advise the WHO on prioritizing studies and field investigations into the subjects.

    In addition, the committee will provide information and opinions to assist the WHO Secretariat in the development of a detailed work plan of the SAGO. 

    In the context of the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the SAGO will provide the WHO Secretariat with an independent evaluation of all available scientific and technical findings from global studies and advise the WHO Secretariat regarding developing, monitoring and supporting the next series of related studies, the release reads. 

    The SAGO will provide “rapid advice” on the WHO’s operational plans to implement the next series of global studies into the origins of SARS-CoV-2, outlined in a March report. Last, the committee will provide any additional advice and support to the WHO, as requested by the WHO SAGO Secretariat, including participation in future WHO-international missions to study the origins of SARS-CoV-2 or other emerging pathogens.

    Reuters reported that the WHO launched the request for applications last August and September.


    A public list of the proposed members provided by the WHO shows that the original team of 10 international experts are listed on the committee, including Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans, Danish epidemiologist Thea Fischer, British epidemiologist John Watson, Russian researcher Vladimir Dedkov, animal health specialist Hung Nguyen of Vietnam and epidemiologist Elmoubasher Farag of Qatar.

    Any future investigations in China could potentially prove difficult as the country has repeatedly said it considers investigation of COVID-19′s origins there completed.

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