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WHO enlists Nigerians in team to probe COVID-19, others

By Chukwuma Muanya (Lagos) and Sodiq Omolaoye (Abuja)
18 October 2021   |   4:04 am
Two Nigerians, Dr. Christian Happi and Dr. Chinwe Ochu, have been enlisted in a 26-man World Health Organisation (WHO) team of scientists to probe origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and other emerging diseases.

•Stakeholders urge proper waste disposal to check virus
Two Nigerians, Dr. Christian Happi and Dr. Chinwe Ochu, have been enlisted in a 26-man World Health Organisation (WHO) team of scientists to probe origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and other emerging diseases. The body plans to officially appoint all or most of them after a two-week review.

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 analyse the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).

Ochu, on the other hand, is Director of Prevention Programmes and Knowledge Management at the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

With the launch of its Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO), the global health agency has revamped its usual approach to outbreaks, where researchers unravel origins of epidemics as the need arises.

The shortcomings of this method have become clear, as the source of the novel coronavirus remains unknown nearly two years after its outbreak.

In a statement, WHO confirmed that the expert team was raised after a careful consideration of applications.

It noted that the SAGO members are to serve in their individual 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.

“Pursuant to WHO’s rules and practices, and in order 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 organisation 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 and designed SAGO, 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 spread.

She said 26 unpaid advisers were picked from more than 700 applicants.

IN the meantime, stakeholders in the technology and health sectors have called for proper disposal of COVID-19 waste to minimise spread of the virus in Nigeria.

They made the appeal during a symposium titled ‘Hackaton on management of COVID-19 waste’ and organised by Health Watch, EpiAFRIC and Reboot with support from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) at the weekend in Abuja.

Senior Crisis Prevention and Recovery Advisor at UNDP, William Tsuma, observed that the mismanagement of COVID-19-related waste could adversely impact on both human health and the environment.

According to him, the waste includes used facemasks and gloves, empty hand sanitiser containers and other plastic personal protective equipment.

He stressed that their proper disposal was key.

Minister of State for Health, Olorunnimbe Mamora, represented by Head, Clinical Services, Federal Medical Centre, Keffi, Edeh Christopher, decried the public’s attitude to waste disposal.

He restated that the containment of the virus through good hygiene was not the sole duty of government.

In her contribution, the Chief Executive Officer, Ventures Park, Nkechi Oguchi, described the level of information on proper waste management among Nigerians as poor.

She advised the government to treat waste management of medical, household and other hazardous items as an issue of national importance.

Chief Executive Officer, EpiAFRIC, Ifeanyi Nsofor, pointed out that apart from the increasing population of COVID-19 patients and arrival of vaccines, the huge waste generated from the virus response measures should be of major concern to all.