A new centre in Berlin, Germany, launched on Wednesday by the World Health Organization (WHO), aims to help countries better assess and respond to global disease threats in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
The WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence, will bring together diverse partnerships from several disciplines, and the latest technology, so that data and intelligence are shared for the common good.
Critically, it will support experts and policy-makers worldwide to be able to forecast, detect and assess epidemic and pandemic risks so that they can respond rapidly 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,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director General, said in a press release.
“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.”
Germany has provided an initial $100 million investment for the Hub, which will be headed by Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, currently Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.
Sharing expertise and knowledge
Speaking at the launch, outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel highlighted her country’s contribution to medical science, including developing tests and vaccines against the new coronavirus.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated how much we can actually achieve if we combine our strengths,” she said through an interpreter. “Experts from all over the world at enormous speed, have been able to enhance and share their expertise and their knowledge in order to decode the coronavirus.”
Ready, fast and agile
The Hub is part of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, headed by Dr. Michael Ryan. He has been at the forefront of managing acute risks to global health for more than two decades, including the COVID-19 pandemic but also Ebola and measles outbreaks.
“In my experience, there are three things that are critical to an effective response to an epidemic or pandemic: be ready, be fast and be agile,” Dr. Ryan said at the launch.
“The better we prepare, the more ready we will be to respond. The faster we identify new infectious disease risks, the faster we can respond.The more adaptable and agile we are, the more effective our response will be. None of this is possible without better data, intelligence, analytics and insights to improve the speed and adaptability of our response.”
The WHO Hub is currently operating from a centre provided by Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, one of the largest university hospitals in Europe.
It will soon move to a permanent location in the city’s Kreuzberg district.