Berlin, chosen city for new WHO pandemic intelligence hub

5 May 2021, Jens Spahn German Federal Minister of Health at meeting. (Sourse:Keystone,DPA, John Macdougall).

German health minister Jens Spahn joined World Health Organization officials on Wednesday to announce plans for a new global hub, which will gather data on pandemics and epidemics to fight future health emergencies.

The proposed hub will be housed in Berlin later this year but will involve global collaboration bringing together governments, academic and private sector institutions to harness global data to predict, prevent and respond to pandemic and epidemic risks.

WHO director general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “One of the lessons of Covid-19 is that the world needs a significant leap forward in data analysis to help leaders make informed public health decisions.”

“This requires harnessing the potential of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, combining diverse data sources, and collaborating across multiple disciplines. Better data and better analytics will lead to better decisions,” he added.

This requires a “global reset”, the German health minister said, as the world is still ill-prepared for pandemics.

"We need to identify pandemic and epidemic risks as quickly as possible, wherever they occur in the world," Spahn said.

For Spahn the aim of the hub is to strengthen the global early warning assessment system through improved collection of health-related data.

Also represented at the event was German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said the current pandemic has taught the world that pandemics and epidemics could only be fought together, whilst welcoming WHO’s decision to base the centre in Germany.

“Berlin is a good location for the WHO hub, not only because we in Germany can thereby directly support but also because many leading actors in the health and digital spheres are already here.”

Germany will foot 30 million euros startup costs however sourcing funds for the hub is still ongoing, explained Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme.

Since the Covid pandemic first emerged in late 2019, there have been over 153 million confirmed cases and over 3.2 million lives lost, according to the latest WHO data.  The UN health agency received questions from journalists pertaining to whether the hub would openly share data given the controversy surrounding the initial outbreak of Covid-19 and whether China delayed alerting the world .

The WHO officials said data will be shared globally.

"There will be more viruses that will emerge with the potential of sparking pandemics, which move fast, but data can move even faster and with the right information, countries and communities can stay one step ahead of an emerging risk, " the WHO chief said.