WHO announces new team to study the origin of the coronavirus

The new committee, known as the Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens, will differ in several respects from the team the WHO sent to China. Because that team visited Wuhan, China had a major influence on its membership. That is not the case for the new committee, a permanent panel of which Dr. Van Kerkhove said it would start with frequent closed-door meetings about the coronavirus.

When applying for applications, the WHO asked potential committee members to provide a statement of any conflicts of interest, in addition to a cover letter and resume. That appeared to be an attempt to confront critics who complained that a member of the previous team, Peter Daszak, an animal disease specialist, was too closely associated with a virology institute in Wuhan at the center of lab leak theories to make a sober assessment. can give. dr. Daszak has said his expertise on China and coronaviruses made him well-suited to join the earlier trip.

“Conflicts of interest among members of the latter group caused a huge cloud over the head of the World Health Organization,” said Lawrence Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. Of the new advisory group, he added: “It’s a commission with the right mandate and a good global mandate – none of that has happened before.”

For WHO, said Professor Gostin, the new commission serves several purposes. By choosing a larger group that reflects a wider range of expertise and geographic regions, the organization can try to gain broad international support for its work and underline China’s intransigence, he said.

Crucially, forming the new group could also help bolster the WHO’s position with its main Western funders, no more important than the United States. Despite the agency’s attempt to act respectfully towards China during the pandemic, Professor Gostin said, China had repeatedly blocked the organization and concealed crucial information.

Now, he said, the organization must respond to the wishes of Europe and the United States — not least because WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is counting on their support for his reelection in May.

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