WHO sets up hub on pandemic, epidemic intelligence in Berlin

Our Bureau Mumbai | Updated on September 01, 2021

New variants emerge, but Delta continues to be the dominant one

Berlin will be home to a new hub for pandemic and epidemic intelligence, an international initiative to be better prepared for global disease threats. This WHO hub was inaugurated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday.


Germany will invest $100 million initially in the hub, which will involve multiple disciplines and technology, to link data, tools and communities so that actionable intelligence is shared for the common good, said a WHO note. Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, currently Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, will lead the WHO hub.

The development comes even as several hypotheses circulate on the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that caused the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, an investigation led by US intelligence agencies recently submitted a report to the President, but that too was inconclusive in terms of whether the virus originated from a wet market (selling dead, live and wild animals) or leaked out of a laboratory in Wuhan, China.

“Despite decades of investment, Covid has revealed the great gaps that exist in the world’s ability to forecast, detect, assess and respond to outbreaks that threaten people worldwide,” said Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director of WHO’s Health Emergency Programme on the hub.

New variants

The WHO hub also assumes importance as countries collaborate to identify and map the several variants of the virus. In its weekly epidemiological report, the WHO said that the Alpha variant had been reported in 193 countries, while 141 countries have reported cases of the Beta variant; 91 countries reported the Gamma variant; and 170 countries (seven new countries) reported the highly transmissible Delta variant.

The latest variant of interest, B.1.621, has been classified and given the WHO label ‘Mu’. This includes the descendent Pango lineage B.1.621.1, said the WHO.

The Mu variant has a constellation of mutations that indicate potential properties of immune escape (where vaccines were see to be less effective). First identified in Colombia in January, there have been sporadic reports of the variant from South America and Europe.

More studies are required to understand the clinical characteristics of this variant, said the WHO, adding that the variant and the co-circulating Delta variant would be monitored for changes.

Also on the WHO’s radar is the C.1.2 variant identified in South Africa and reportedly having over 50 more mutations than the original Wuhan virus. But WHO experts indicate that for the moment Delta still seems to be the dominant one.

Published on September 01, 2021

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