The World Health Organization, or WHO, is establishing a new hub in Berlin tasked with gathering global data and intelligence in order to prepare for future disease outbreaks and pandemics.
The WHO Global Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence is backed by the German government, which is putting up 30 million euros ($36 million) in annual funding. WHO is in discussions with G7 nations as well as private partners over further investment.
The global hub will design predictive tools and analyze data supplied by nations and organizations around the world, in order to provide early warnings about spikes in disease cases and get ahead of potential outbreaks.
“The current COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that we can only fight pandemics and epidemics together,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a News conference on Wednesday. “The new WHO hub will be a global platform for pandemic prevention, bringing together various governmental, academic and private sector institutions.”
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the world needs a “significant leap forward” in terms of the generation, sharing, and analysis of public health data in order to reduce the spread of harmful pathogens.
“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,” Tedros said. “Viruses move fast, but data moves even faster.”
Michael Ryan, who is the executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program, said that Germany has put up the start-up funding for the hub, though he indicated that more investment will be needed in order to build the systems necessary for effective global data analysis. Ryan also said the success of the hub will rely on the quality and quantity of available data, and that governments should work to ensure speed and transparency in information sharing about potential spikes in disease cases.
Germany’s Health Minister Jens Spahn said that the world needs to identify pandemic and epidemic risks as quickly as possible, wherever they occur.
“For that aim, we need to strengthen the global early warning surveillance system with improved collection of health-related data and inter-disciplinary risk analysis,” said Spahn.