An international hub for pandemic control is to open in Berlin to ensure better preparedness and transparency in the fight against likely future global health threats, the UN health agency announced on Wednesday.
Supported by the German Government, the centre will specialize in gathering epidemic intelligence, data, surveillance and analytics innovation.
It will open later this year, according to Chancellor Angela Merkel, who explained how she had first discussed the idea last autumn, with World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
"The world has learned that we can only meet a global challenge such as the current COVID-19 pandemic through joint action," said Chancellor Merkel, in a pre-recorded video message, broadcast during a press conference at the WHO in Geneva.
"Meanwhile, we have also realised that the WHO is the central global health institution in this effort. An essential basis for the fight against future pandemics is data. Data that, when bundled and processed with the correct analytical tools, yields insights that we could never discover on our own, or at least not so quickly."
The WHO is the central global health institution in this effort Chancellor Angela Merkel
Echoing the need for greater cooperation and information-sharing between countries to complement existing international health regulations, Tedros underscored the likely recurrence of new global health threats:
"The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed gaps in the global systems for pandemic and epidemic intelligence. And it’s a fact of nature that there will more viruses that will emerge with the potential of sparking epidemics or pandemics. Viruses move fast, but data can move even faster."
Stay ahead of the virus
Although "viruses move fast… data can move even faster", the WHO chief insisted, adding that "with the right information, countries and communities can stay one step ahead of an emerging risk and save lives. Modern technologies give us unprecedented tools for collecting, analysing and disseminating data in real time around the world. That’s what the WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence aims to do."
#COVID19 has highlighted the urgency for countries to cooperate & better prepare for future pandemics.— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) May 5, 2021
The 🆕 WHO Hub for Pandemic & Epidemic Intelligence will be a global center using 🌐 data to detect & monitor risks worldwide.
👉 https://t.co/n17MjwTbRL pic.twitter.com/v1t6ol4mdH
A super-computer will help the new centre to "predict, prevent, detect prepare for and respond to pandemic and epidemic risks worldwide", according to WHO.
Health Emergencies Programme Executive Director, Dr. Michael Ryan. highlighted the importance of taking immediate action and sharing information when tackling future public health threats:
"There are many problems to solve here and issues around transparency and accountability cannot necessarily be solved by new technologies", he said, noting that "being able to generate early insights as to disease risk and vulnerability, and be able to take immediate action, has been a very important factor in being able to mitigate disease quickly."
Epidemic ‘surveillance system’
Dr Ryan highlighted how the Berlin centre would help to identify "signals that may occur before epidemics happen", as "there are risks that emerge at the animal-human interface, there is data on everything from climate to mobility, to as I said animal-related data that can give us pre-signals, signals before epidemics start of high risks and of high vulnerabilities.
"The hub will allow us to develop tools for that sort of predicted analytics, it will also give us tools for managing during epidemics, in terms of managing societal response."
German Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn, noted that the WHO Hub would act as a "global early warning surveillance system".
It will support the work of public health experts and policymakers in all countries, to help them respond rapidly to future public health emergencies, he added.
"Globally we all need to work together to be better prepared for the next pandemic and the second is that we must strengthen WHO’s leading and coordinating role, particularly in pandemic preparedness."