SA prof to head international body of scientists studying emergence of novel pathogens
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CAPE TOWN - The University of Pretoria, widely hailed for its contribution as one of South Africa's leading research institutions, is now set to join the World Health Organization’s efforts to study the emergence of novel pathogens, including the coronavirus.
The head of the university’s Zoonotic Arbo and Respiratory Virus Programme at the Centre for Viral Zoonoses in the Department of Medical Virology, Professor Marietjie Venter, has been selected to head up WHO’s Scientific Advisory Group on the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO).
Venter is a medical virologist with extensive experience in emerging and zoonotic vector-borne and respiratory viruses.
She has a background in molecular epidemiology, laboratory science, biosafety, viral diagnostics, virus discovery, pathogenesis and public health.
Venter was selected to chair the international scientific advisory team comprising of an international expert group selected from 800 applications from over 100 countries to advise the world health body on the developments of a global framework to define and guide studies into the origins of emerging and re-emerging pathogens of epidemic and pandemic potential, including the current SARS-CoV-2.
“If the origin of new pathogens can be identified it may enable us to put control measures into place to prevent transmission to humans, reduce the impact of local epidemics, and prevent future pandemics,” said Venter of the scientific team’s goal.
“This is a career highlight, and a huge honour for me personally to serve in this role as I see this as an opportunity to use my training to lead an exceptional selection of scientists to investigate the origin of emerging diseases such as Covid-19, but also the next disease that may cause the next pandemic.”
She added that even though the origin of Covid-19 was still not known, the speed at which the new virus was identified, the rapid development of sensitive diagnostics, the ability to detect variants through genomic surveillance, and the development of effective vaccines through international collaborations, was in her opinion the most significant progress to date.