World Health Organization seeking experts to determine where Covid-19 came from

The World Health Organization (WHO) is seeking experts to serve as members of the global agency’s Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO).

The rapid emergence and spread of the novel coronavius 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 that contribute to their emergence and spread.

In May 2020, the World Health Assembly requested the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) to continue to work closely with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and countries, as part of the One Health approach, to identify the source of SARS-CoV-2, the ailment that is produced by the new coronavirus in the human population.

There have been an increasing number of high threat pathogens emerging and reemerging in recent years with, for example, SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, Lassa, Marburg, Ebola, Nipah, avian influenza, the latest being SARS-CoV-2.

There is not only need for robust surveillance and early actions for rapid detection and mitigation efforts, but a need for a robust and systematic processes to establish the study around the emergence of these pathogens and routes of transmission from their natural reservoirs to humans.

To this end, SAGO will advise the WHO Secretariat on technical and scientific considerations regarding emerging and re-emerging pathogens, and will be composed of experts acting in a personal capacity.

It is established in accordance with the WHO Regulations for Study and Scientific Groups, Collaborating Institutions and Other Mechanisms of Collaboration.

The SAGO shall meet regularly, with its first meeting to be held towards the end of 30 September or early October 2021.

SAGO meetings may be held in person at WHO headquarters in Geneva or another location or virtually via video or teleconference and they may be held in open and/or closed session, as decided by the chairperson.

The working language of the group will be English. WHO may, at its sole discretion, invite external individuals from time to time to attend the open sessions of an advisory group, or parts thereof, as “observers”.

SAGO members are expected to attend meetings. Reports of each meeting shall be submitted by the SAGO to the WHO Director-General. All recommendations from the SAGO are advisory to WHO, who retains full control over any subsequent decisions or actions regarding any proposals, policy issues or other matters considered by the SAGO. The SAGO shall normally make recommendations by consensus.

The SAGO will be multidisciplinary, with members who have a range of technical knowledge, skills and experience relevant to emerging and re-emerging pathogens. Up to 25 experts may be selected.

WHO welcomes expressions of interest from individuals with significant expertise in one or more of the following technical disciplines in order to ensure a One Health approach:

  • infectious disease epidemiology and conducting epidemiological studies;
  • field research;
  • virology;
  • ecology;
  • molecular epidemiology;
  • sero-epidemiology;
  • medicine;
  • bioinformatics;
  • outbreak analytics;
  • health statistics;
  • microbiology;
  • veterinary medicine;
  • food safety;
  • bacteriology;
  • environmental science;
  • biosafety;
  • biosecurity;
  • occupational health and safety;
  • laboratory safety and security;
  • ethics and social sciences;
  • or other activities related to the emergence or re-emergence of pathogens of pandemic potential. 

Submitting an expression of interest

To register interest in being considered for the SAGO, applicants should submit the following documents by September 10, 2021 via email to using the subject line Expression of interest for the SAGO:

  • A cover letter, indicating your motivation to apply and how you satisfy the selection criteria (maximum 500 words). Please note that, if selected, membership will be in a personal capacity. Therefore do not use the letterhead or other identification of your employer);
  • Your curriculum vitae; and
  • A signed and completed Declaration of Interests (DOI) form for WHO Experts, available at

After submission, each expression of interest will be reviewed by WHO.  Due to an expected high volume of interest, only selected individuals will be informed.

WHO intends to complete the selection of members of the SAGO by late September 2021.

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