Agence France-PresseMay 6, 2021 11:53:55 IST
The World Health Organization announced on Wednesday that it would set up a global information center in Berlin to analyze data on new pandemic threats by filling in the gaps revealed by Covid-19. The WHO Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence Center, which will become operational later this year, is set to analyze data quickly and in detail to predict, prevent, detect, prepare for and respond to risks globally. The center is trying to move the game forward by looking for advance signals that go much further than current systems that track publicly available information for signs of new outbreaks.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed gaps in global pandemic and epidemic intelligence systems,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters. “There will be more viruses that arise in the context of possible sparking epidemics or pandemics.”
“Viruses move fast. But data can move even faster. With the right data, countries and communities can stay one step ahead of the risk and save lives.”
Combining digital health expertise
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Berlin was a good location for the center because it already had leading players in the digital industry and healthcare, such as the Robert Koch Institute.
“If the WHO Center complements this expertise, we will create a unique environment for pandemic and health research in this Berlin – an environment from which important action-oriented insights emerge for governments and leaders around the world,” he said in a video message.
The site is expected to be operational from September. Its budget is still under discussion, while Germany will bear the start-up costs.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn said the world needed the ability to detect outbreaks that could become health crises “before the threat becomes a sad reality.”
Global systems were currently “inadequately prepared” to address the risks of outbreaks, mutations in existing pathogens, the expansion of diseases into previously unaffected populations, and the transmission of species from animals to humans, he added.
“There is a clear need for a stronger global early warning and emergency system with improved public health information,” he said. “Better data and better analysis are the key to making better decisions.”
Searching for advance signals
“There are signals that can occur before epidemics happen … information that can give us advance signals,” said Michael Ryan, WHO Director of Emergency Situations. This information could drive early decision-making, he added.
“The center will allow us to develop tools for such predictive analysis,” he said.
A joint task by international and Chinese researchers concluded in March that the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes Covid-19 disease, was likely to be transmitted to humans from bats via a mediator.
According to the expert report, the outbreak could have started as early as September 2019, long before it was first detected in December 2019 in Wuhan.
The WHO only became aware of the new coronavirus on December 31 of the same year when its epidemic intelligence service and the Chinese office discovered a media report and a mention of the mysterious pneumonia by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission.
The Covid-19 pandemic has killed at least 3.2 million people and has registered more than 154 million cases worldwide since then. AFP.