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WHO opens epidemiological intelligence center to monitor future crises

The World Health Organization’s “Epidemic Intelligence Center” launched in Berlin on Wednesday by UN Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and German Angela Merkel will seek to help governments detect future epidemics early and improve surveillance of new variants of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The center, which will host scientists and policy makers from around the world on a project-by-project basis, aims to facilitate the exchange of information for governments on emerging infectious diseases and obtain additional information relevant to travel patterns. or trade routes or human-animal interactions in agriculture.

The World Health Organization, which links the 194 member states of the United Nations to health policy, raised its highest alert on the Covid-19 pandemic on January 30, 2020, but studies have since indicated that the coronavirus has been spreading around the world for a month. at least. Circulate in advance.

“Covid-19 has identified a problem,” said Oliver Morgan, director of the World Health Organization’s Division of Emergency Health Information and Risk Assessment. “Now there is a lot of data and public information that is difficult to understand.”

Each month, the World Health Organization processes an average of 9 million pieces of information on the developments of an epidemic or epidemic and investigates further 300 events.

Part of the problem, according to the WHO, is that databases are rarely hardened to allow international comparisons as governments and NGOs increasingly collect information relevant to public health.

Analysis tools are often developed separately or ad hoc, and analysis is hampered by data format problems. Morgan said the problem becomes particularly evident when monitoring new variants of Covid-19.

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One of the problems we face is that clinical samples are currently often separated from epidemiological information such as infection rates or hospital stays. So even if we identify a variable, we don’t know if it will change the rules of the game.”

Epidemiological monitoring through genome sequencing—the process of deciphering the order of nucleotide molecules that determines the genetic code of a particular virus—has proven invaluable in monitoring strains of polio and influenza.

But while countries such as the United Kingdom and South Africa have increased their genome sequencing capabilities over the past decade, global coverage remains inconsistent.

“We do not currently have a single view of how Covid-19 variants are performing around the world, nor do we have a single database that allows us to easily share information,” Morgan said. “We really only have small windows for the big picture through some countries with advanced laboratories.”

He said a focus on improving global tracking of Covid-19 variants through genome sequencing is likely to be the new center’s first priority.

The center will be partially funded by the federal government in the amount of US$100 million for the first three years and will initially be operated from a room in Luisenstrasse in Berlin Mitte leased by the Charité University Hospital.

He later moved to a permanent university campus at Moritzplatz in Kreuzberg. The center will accommodate up to 120 people, most of whom are not WHO staff, but visiting scientists or decision makers.