Indian Epidemiologist In Advisory Group For Origins Of Covid-Like Pathogens
Dr Raman Gangakhedkar, a leading Indian epidemiologist, has been named to an expert group launched by the WHO that will examine origins of emerging and re-emerging pathogens of epidemic and pandemic potential, including SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.Gangakhedkar, the former head of epidemiology and communicable diseases at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), is the Dr C.G. Pandit National Chair at the ICMR.The World Health Organisation on Wednesday announced the proposed members of the WHO Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO).The SAGO will advise WHO on the development of a global framework to define and guide studies into the origins of emerging and re-emerging pathogens of epidemic and pandemic potential, including SARS-CoV-2.The global health organisation said that after careful consideration of all applications submitted to WHO, the 26 scientists who come from several countries, were selected and their names proposed for membership of the WHO Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO).The members are to serve in their personal capacities to represent the broad range of disciplines relevant to emerging and re-emerging pathogens."The emergence of new viruses with the potential to spark epidemics and pandemics is a fact of nature, and while SARS-CoV-2 is the latest such virus, it will not be the last," said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General."Understanding where new pathogens come from is essential for preventing future outbreaks with epidemic and pandemic potential, and requires a broad range of expertise. We are very pleased with the calibre of experts selected for SAGO from around the world, and look forward to working with them to make the world safer."Gangakhedkar had become the face of ICMR during government briefings to the media on the coronavirus pandemic. He retired as the head of epidemiology and communicable diseases at the apex health research body in June last year.He represented ICMR in national press briefings and updated journalists on research developments related to COVID-19 in India by breaking down complex scientific data to make them easier for the general public to understand.Gangakhedkar also played an important role in the research on HIV/AIDS and made a significant contribution in developing national policies and patient empowerment. He was the director-incharge of the National AIDS Research Institute (NARI), Pune, before he moved to the ICMR headquarters in Delhi.During his approximately four-year stint with ICMR, he was instrumental in formulation of policies to handle the Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala in 2018 and recently for the COVID-19 pandemic. He was awarded Padma Shri in 2020 for his service and his research on HIV/AIDS.Selected from more than 700 applications, the 26 proposed SAGO members have expertise in a range of areas, including epidemiology, animal health, ecology, clinical medicine, virology, genomics, molecular epidemiology, molecular biology, biology, food safety, biosafety, biosecurity, and public health. The composition of the SAGO reflects geographic and gender diversity, WHO said.The members are to serve in their personal capacities to represent the broad range of disciplines relevant to emerging and re-emerging pathogens.As per WHO processes, there will now be a two-week public consultation period for WHO to receive feedback on the proposed SAGO members and set in place the modalities for the SAGO''s first meeting, which is planned to take place following this consultation period.The members include Director of the Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology at the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr Inger Damon, Professor of Tropical Microbiology at the Nuffield Department of Medicine at the University of Oxford Dr Stuart Blacksell, Deputy Director for Research at the Pasteur Institute in Russia Dr Vladimir Dedkov, Research Director of the Environment and Infectious Risks Unit, as well as the head for the Emergency Biological Intervention Unit at the Institut Pasteur in France Dr Jean-Claude Manuguerra.Other members include Deputy Director at the Beijing Institute of Genomics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in China Dr Yungui Yang, Professor of the Zoonotic Arbovirus and Respiratory Virus Research Programme at the Centre for Viral Zoonoses, Department of Medical Virology at the University of Pretoria in South Africa Dr Marietjie Venter and Honorary Professor at the Faculty of Epidemiology and Population Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, as well as a Visiting Professor in the Research Department of Infection and Population Health at the University College of London Dr John Watson.