Dr Gangakhedkar in WHO expert group to study origin of new pathogens

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Dr R R Gangakhedkar, former head of epidemiology and communicable diseases at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), has been selected for the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) expert group that will examine the origins of emerging and re-emerging pathogens of epidemic and pandemic potential, including SARS-CoV-2.

Dr Gangakhedkar, who is based in Pune, retired as the head of epidemiology and communicable diseases at the ICMR in June last year. When contacted on Thursday, he told The Indian Express that this was one “more opportunity to contribute to the welfare of humanity and my country”.

The WHO on Wednesday announced the proposed members of its Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO), which will advise it on development of a global framework to define and guide studies in the field.

The 26 scientists, from several countries, will 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…” he said.

Dr Gangakhedkar had become the face of ICMR during media briefings on the pandemic.

The rapid emergence and spread of SARS-CoV-2 has highlighted the importance of being prepared for any future event, to be able to identify novel pathogens early and to address the risk factors, said a WHO statement.

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