Collaborative Intelligence: WHO Launches Pandemic Surveillance Hub in Berlin Headed by Nigerian Epidemiologist
WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus addresses the launch of the WHO Pandemic Intelligence Hub.

The only thing that moves faster than viruses is data, experts noted at Wednesday’s launch of the World Health Organization (WHO) Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence in Berlin.

The aim of the hub is to work with partners to “create the tools and data needed to enable countries to prepare, detect and respond to pandemic and epidemic risks”, according to the WHO.

It named Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director-General of Nigeria’s Centre for Disease Control, as new head of the hub, and WHO Assistant Director-General for health emergency intelligence in Geneva.

READ about Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu here

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the hub was about ”leveraging innovation in data science, harnessing the power of artificial intelligence, quantum computing and other cutting edge technologies and fostering greater sharing of data and information between communities and countries”. 

“No single institution, or nation can do this alone. That’s why we have coined the term collaborative intelligence to sum up our collective mission,” Dr Tedros told a media briefing after the launch.

“This hub will bring together scientists, innovators, policymakers, and civil society representatives from around the world to work across borders and disciplines, of course, the ultimate goal is not just to develop new toys, it’s to save lives.”

According to the WHO, the hub will work to:
* Enhance methods for access to multiple data sources vital to generating signals and insights on disease emergence, evolution and impact;
* Develop state of the art tools to process, analyse and model data for detection, assessment and response;
* Provide WHO, Member States, and partners with these tools to underpin better, faster decisions on how to address outbreak signals and events; and
* Connect and catalyze institutions and networks developing disease outbreak solutions for the present and future.

Dr Tedros, who cut a ribbon with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to inaugurate the hub, credited Merkel with the vision to set up the institution, and later in the event awarded her with the WHO Global Leadership Award in recognition of her “outstanding contribution to global health”.

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus giving German Chancellor Angela Merkel the WHO Global Leadership Award

The catalyst for the hub, said Tedros, was Merkel’s question: “How can we react faster and avoid the needless suffering and death of the COVID-19 pandemic in future?”

The hub will be supported by the German government, already the biggest contributor to the ACT Accelerator, and international donors.

“To effectively prevent future pandemics, we need more transparency, more real-time data sharing and experiences at all levels from different sectors,” said German health minister Jens Spahn.

“Once again, I call on China to finally become fully cooperative and to make the examination of the origin of the SARS-CoV2 virus transparent to the international community. That’s important to learn for future pandemics,” added Spahn. 

Ready, fast and agile

Dr Michael J Ryan, Executive Director WHO Health Emergencies Programme, saidd that he had spent most of his professional life trying to protect people from epidemics and other health emergencies.

“In my experience, we need three really important, critical things to be effective in response. We must be ready, we must be fast and we must be agile,” said Ryan.

“We need to be able to predict, prepare and plan for what may happen. We must be able to detect, assess and react to what is happening around us the earliest possible signal of an event, and then we must be able to adapt quickly to the realities of an evolving event, which is never exactly what you plan for or expect,” he added.

Describing as prescient the remark that the only thing that could move faster than viruses was data, Ryan said a more effective response to pandemics could be honed through “better data analytics and insights to improve the speed and adaptability of our response”.

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