An Osun-based medical practitioner, Dr. Christian Happi has been enlisted in a 26-man World Health Organisation (WHO) team of scientists to probe the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and other emerging diseases.
Happi is a Professor and Director at the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Disease (ACEGID), Redeemer’s University, Ede, Osun State.
He was the first scientist to genetically analyze the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).
Another Nigerian, Dr. Chinwe Ochu, is also on the 26-man WHO team.
Ochu, on the other hand, is Director of Prevention Programmes and Knowledge Management at the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
The body plans to officially appoint all or most of them after a two-week review.
In a statement, WHO confirmed that the expert team was raised after a careful consideration of applications.
With the composition of the team, WHO has launched its Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO).
It noted that the SAGO members are to serve in their capacities to represent the broad range of disciplines relevant to emerging and re-emerging pathogens.
In evaluating the requests, consideration was given to expertise, geographical representation, and gender balancing.
“Under WHO’s rules and practices, and to enhance WHO’s management of conflicts of interest, as well as strengthen public trust and transparency in connection with WHO advisory groups involving the provision of technical advice, the names and brief biographies of the individuals selected for SAGO membership were disclosed for public notice and comment,” the statement stated.
The organization said the group would also uncover where the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus type 2 (SARS-CoV-2) originated.
Some SAGO members might be involved in the next phase of the COVID-19 origins’ investigation in China, and perhaps in other countries – indeed, six of them were part of the first team of 34 researchers on a WHO-organised mission that wrapped up in March. The team is also tasked with developing a framework to guide inquiries into outbreaks of epidemics more broadly, including determining what data to collate and report.
Maria Van Kerkhove, who heads WHO’s emerging diseases unit, explained that finding the origin of a novel pathogen takes careful detective work, noting that this could be a herculean task at the beginning of an outbreak when countries scramble to contain the spread.
She said the 26 team members were picked from more than 700 applicants.