Nigerian heads new hub for pandemic and epidemic intelligence

Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu
Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu

The Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, has been appointed to lead the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence, based in Berlin.

He will have dual roles: head of the Hub, and Assistant Director-General for Health Emergency Intelligence in Geneva.

Launched in the German capital and virtually, on Wednesday, the Hub aims to provide the world with better data, analytics and decisions to detect and respond to health emergencies.

The German government is providing $100 million in initial funding for the Hub, which has become part of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme.

It will operate in collaboration with countries and partners around the world, driving innovations to increase availability of key data; develop state of the art analytic tools and predictive models for risk analysis; and link communities of practice around the world.

Critically, the WHO Hub will support the work of public health experts and policy-makers in all countries with the tools needed to forecast, detect and assess epidemic and pandemic risks so they can take rapid decisions to prevent and respond to future public health emergencies.

“The world needs to be able to detect new events with pandemic potential and to monitor disease control measures on a real-time basis to create effective pandemic and epidemic risk management,” said Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General

“This Hub will be key to that effort, leveraging innovations in data science for public health surveillance and response, and creating systems whereby we can share and expand expertise in this area globally.”

He added: “All the work that goes into pandemic and epidemic preparedness must occur before an outbreak starts.

“Data linkage and analysis, and the ability to better detect and assess risks of disease events in their earliest stages before they amplify and cause death and societal disruption, is what the WHO Hub will focus on.”

Dr Tedros said lessons were learned from the WHO’s experience in West Africa that had helped the response to subsequent outbreaks of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Those outbreaks were brought under control without spreading across borders as they did in West Africa, even though the North Kivu outbreak occurred in a highly unstable and insecure environment, and very close to the border with Uganda.

But the WHO acknowledged that the lessons from West Africa were not sufficient to prepare the world for a global pandemic of a respiratory pathogen.

It said viruses moved fast, but data could move even faster, with the right information helping countries and communities to stay ahead of emerging risks and to save lives.

Although the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths reported to the WHO at the end of August fell for the first time in more than two months, Dr Tedros said the battle against the disease was far from over.

Urbanisation, deforestation, climate change and intensified agricultural practices were all increasing the risks of diseases from animals and insects spilling over into human populations.

There was also the imbalance in the availability of vaccines.
For instance, of the more than five billion vaccines that have now been administered globally, almost 75 percent of them have been in just 10 countries.

In low-income countries, most of which are in Africa, less than two per cent of adults are fully vaccinated, compared with almost 50 per cent in high?income countries.

At the same time, some countries are planning to roll out booster COVID-19 vaccines to people who have been fully vaccinated, when millions of people around the world have not even received their first dose, according to Dr Tedros.

“That’s why I have called for a moratorium on boosters, at least until the end of this month, to allow those countries that are furthest behind to catch up,” he added.

“The war will only have been won when there are no new infections.
“In fact, it will only really be won when we are properly equipped to face the next crisis – in other words, when we have learned from this crisis,” Dr Tedros said.

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