They will be in charge of studying new pathogens and preventing future pandemics. For the team of scientists created by the WHO, the task promises to be heavy in the coming months, under the strong shadow of the research on the origins of Covid-19. Your name ? Sago, for the acronym for “Scientific Advisory Group on the Origins of New Pathogens.”
“The appearance of new viruses capable of triggering epidemics and pandemics is an inescapable reality of nature, and if Sars-CoV-2 is the most recent of these viruses, it will not be the last”, justifies the Director General of the WHO. Tedros Adhanom. Ghebreyesus at a press conference.
Following a call for applications, the WHO selected 26 out of 700, including German virologist Christian Drosten and Inger Damon from the US Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Frenchman Jean-Claude Manuguerra. , a virologist at the Pasteur Institute, and Yungui Yang, deputy director of the Beijing Genomics Institute.
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Specialists from all walks of life
German researcher Christian Drosten directs the Institute of Virology at the Charité University Hospital in Berlin. He has been interested in your coronavirus research for 17 years, and more particularly Sars-CoV, a cousin of Sars-CoV-2. For him, the origin of the disease is animal. He points out the fur trade in particular, in an interview with the Swiss news site Republik.
The American Inger Damon is director of the division of pathogens and high frequency pathology of the CDC, which she joined for the first time in 1999 as a military doctor, as specified in her biographical sheet on the site of the American center. For almost a year, between 2014 and 2015, he specialized in the Ebola virus epidemic.
A researcher at the Institut Pasteur, Jean-Claude Manuguerra is the head of the Environment and Infectious Risks section of the Department of Global Health. The department’s research revolves around two main phenomena: the identification of new pathogens on the one hand and the resistance of pathogens in the external environment on the other. The unit then implemented a pathogen identification program using new technologies. “The objective is to identify and characterize pathogens, known or unknown, that infect humans or animals, or even emerging zoonotic agents or responsible for known but not yet characterized syndromes,” explains the institute. Shepherd.
He was part of the team of 17 international experts appointed by the WHO to investigate the origins of Covid-19 in China. Yungui Yang’s field of study from the Beijing Institute of Genomics focuses in particular on RNA. The UN presents him as “the Chinese expert on animal health.”
In the mission on the origins of Covid, developed jointly with China, Yungui Yang was accompanied by the Dutch Marion Koopmans. The Erasme medical center researcher is also required for this new task entrusted by the world organization. His research is interested in the global impact on populations of zoonotic viral infections that spread rapidly, and aims to elucidate the modes of transmission of viruses between animals and between animals and humans, specifies his file on the site of the European Commission.
Vietnamese biologist Hung Nguyen, who worked for the Swiss Institute of Public and Tropical Health, was also part of the WHO mission in China. A specialist in human and animal health, he was again requisitioned for this prevention mission. The Group also includes five African experts from Sudan, Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.
At the origin of Covid-19
Together, they will have the daunting task of researching new pathogens and re-looking at the origin of the coronavirus, publishing an “independent assessment” of the various scientific and technical findings on the subject.
“This advisory group will advise WHO on urgent next steps, then WHO will work with all member states, including China, to figure out what needs to be done … there is no time to lose,” said the person in charge. from the management of the Covid-19 epidemic at the WHO, Maria Van Kerkhove.
On August 13, China rejected the WHO’s request for a new on-site investigation, considering that the first one was sufficient. But Maria Van Kerkhove said she hoped Sago would recommend more studies soon in China and possibly elsewhere, and asked countries to cooperate. “This may be our last chance to understand the origins of this virus in a collective and responsible way,” said Michael Ryan, director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program.
In Geneva, Chinese Ambassador Chen Xu told UN-accredited journalists on Wednesday that it is not for politicians to decide where experts should go. After the establishment of the expert group, “we will do our best to support the WHO and cooperate with it in the scientific study of the origins,” added Chinese adviser Feng Yong, in charge of public health affairs.
More or less probable scenarios
After a stay in Wuhan in January, the well-known starting point of the pandemic, the report of the joint WHO-China scientific mission on the origins of Covid, published on March 29, listed four more or less probable scenarios. The one considered most likely was transmission of the virus to humans through an animal infected with a bat.
Then came the hypotheses of a direct transmission without an intermediate animal, of a transmission through food, in particular frozen meat, and finally of an accidental laboratory leak, however considered “extremely unlikely”.
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Dismissing this hypothesis from the outset had earned the most virulent criticism from the report’s authors, accused of mitigating China’s responsibility. The WHO chief quickly made sure that all the assumptions remained on the table. “A laboratory accident cannot be ruled out until there is sufficient evidence to do so and these results are not openly disclosed,” he wrote in an editorial published Wednesday in the journal Science.
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