The current COVID-19 pandemic shows the devastating impact emerging zoonotic diseases can have on societies. As the pandemic continues to unfold, understanding how the epidemic began is essential to prevent further SARS-CoV-2 virus introductions and help prevent introductions of new viruses in the future.
It could also potentially assist with the development of treatments and vaccines (Zhang Z. et al. 2020). Identifying the origin of the virus, however, is a complex task, which requires strong international and multi-sectoral collaboration, and a commitment to leverage expertise, capacity, and work globally.
In February 2020, WHO convened an international meeting of experts to develop and agree on a number of priority research initiatives in all aspects of COVID-19 which included virus origin, virus persistence and animal susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 (WHO, 2020a). Under this Research and Development blueprint, WHO is also coordinating several international collaborative efforts that contribute to better understanding the origin of the virus. Furthermore, WHO, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) agreed through the 73rd World Health Assembly resolution, to galvanize efforts to trace the animal origin of the virus, its route of transmission to humans and possible role of the intermediate host.
Building on the recommendations from the 73rd World Health Assembly, WHO, together with the Government of China, have set up an international multidisciplinary team to design, support and conduct a series of studies that will contribute to origin tracing work. The work will contribute to improve the understanding of the virus origins, help set up further studies, thereby improving global preparedness and response to SARS-CoV-2 and zoonotic emerging diseases of similar origin.
International team members of the WHO-convened Global Study of the Origins of SARS-CoV-2 China studies:
- Marion Koopmans (Head of the Department of Viroscience, Erasmus MC, Netherlands)
- Thea Fisher (Nordsjællands Hospital, Denmark)
- John Watson (Public Health England, United Kingdom)
- Dominic Dwyer (Westmead Hospital, Australia)
- Vladimir Dedkov (Institute Pasteur, Russia)
- Hung Nguyen (International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Vietnam)
- Fabian Lendertz (Robert Koch-Institute, Germany)
- Peter Daszak (EcoHealth Alliance, USA)
- Farag El Moubasher (Ministry of Public Health, Qatar)
- Ken Maeda (National Institute of Infectious Diseases, Japan)