By Asmau Ahmad
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says over the past few days there has been renewed attention on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The global health authority therefore called on nations to share information on the COVID-19 origins.
Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director-General, said this during an online media conference.
“As we have said before, if any country has information about the origins of the pandemic, it is essential for that information to be shared with WHO and the international scientific community.
“It is not to apportion blame, but to advance our understanding of how this pandemic started, so we can prevent, prepare for and respond to future epidemics and pandemics.
“I wish to be very clear that WHO has not abandoned any plans to identify the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, contrary to recent media reports and comments by politicians,” Ghebreyesus said.
He said in 2021, WHO established the Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens, or SAGO.
According to him, in its report in 2022, SAGO identified key studies that must be done in China and elsewhere to verify or eliminate the various hypotheses for the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“WHO continues to call for China to be transparent in sharing data, and to conduct the necessary investigations and share the results.
“To that effect, I have written to, and spoken with, high-level Chinese leaders on multiple occasions, as recently as just a few weeks ago,” he said.
The WHO boss said that until then, all hypotheses on the origins of the virus remain on the table.
Ghebreyesus said that at the same time, the continued politicisation of the origins research has turned what should be a purely scientific process into a geopolitical football, which only makes the task of identifying the origins more difficult.
He said that understanding the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic remained a scientific imperative, to inform measures to prevent future epidemics and pandemics, and a moral imperative.
According to him, it is for the sake of the millions of people and their families who have lost their lives to COVID-19, and those who continue to live with post-COVID-19 condition.
Ghebreyesus said that WHO launched a new policy on preventing and addressing all forms of sexual misconduct, including sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment.
“Following allegations of sexual misconduct by WHO employees during the 10th Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2020, I appointed an Independent Commission to investigate the allegations.
“They will make recommendations on reforming WHO’s policies, procedures and practices.
“Since the Commission delivered its report in 2021, WHO has worked hard at implementing its recommendations,” he said.
The WHO boss said that new policy built on the achievements so far, and addresses gaps identified by reviews of the previous policy.
He said that it puts victims and survivors at the centre of the approach, and applies to all WHO staff, collaborators and members of the public in places where WHO and our partners work.
According to him, the new policy is an important step on our journey to becoming an organisation where “zero tolerance” is the reality, and not just a slogan.
On International Women’s Day, which would be marked on March 8, he said that over the past 20 years, the world has made significant gains in the health of women and girls.
Ghebreyesus said that maternal mortality has decreased by one-third.
He said that yet 800 women still die each day due to preventable complications of pregnancy and childbirth.
“These risks are increased by teen pregnancy, which affects more than 20 million girls every year.
“And while women make up 70 per cent of the health workforce globally, on average they earn one-quarter less than their male colleagues, and occupy only one in four global health leadership roles,” Ghebreyesus said.
He said that WHO was committed to addressing the root causes of disparities in women’s and girl’s health, and to making the health sector a driving force for a healthier, safer and fairer world for all women and girls.