SA epidemiologist Professor Karim to join World Health Organisation’s science council

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World renowned infectious disease epidemiologist Professor Salim Abdool Karim will be taking on a new role as a member of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) science council.
World renowned infectious disease epidemiologist Professor Salim Abdool Karim will be taking on a new role as a member of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) science council.

KwaZulu-Natal’s world renowned infectious disease epidemiologist Professor Salim Abdool Karim will be taking on a new role as a member of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) science council.

Comprising of nine of the world’s leading health researchers and chaired by Nobel Laureate Dr Harold Varmus, the council was inaugurated on April 27.

“I am looking forward to participating in this council, providing scientific advice to WHO on future developments in health that the world needs to be better prepared for. We were looking at the application of genomics across the board, from diagnostics through to therapeutics.”
Professor Salim Abdool Karim

The council was set up by WHO’s director-general, Dr Tedros Gebresus, to provide scientific advice on how to respond to global health threats, interpret the latest scientific and medical knowledge, and to identify the latest advances in technology to improve health globally.

The council will also provide guidance to help the WHO further its mission to identify current and new science and technology that can help address issues of global health.

Speaking about his appointment, Karim said pandemics, like Aids and Covid-19, had highlighted the important role of science in global health.

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He added: “I am looking forward to participating in this council, providing scientific advice to WHO on future developments in health that the world needs to be better prepared for.”

The scientific council met for the first time on Tuesday.

“We were looking at the application of genomics across the board, from diagnostics through to therapeutics,” Karim told ENCA.

“One of the areas that I am particularly keen on is the issue of using genomics for surveillance, in particular surveillance looking for new viruses and new bacteria, so that we are better able to predict when the next pandemic is coming.”
Professor Salim Abdool Karim

“One of the areas that I am particularly keen on is the issue of using genomics for surveillance, in particular surveillance looking for new viruses and new bacteria, so that we are better able to predict when the next pandemic is coming,” he said.

Karim, director of Caprisa (Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa) and Caprisa professor of global health at Columbia University, is internationally renowned for his work on Aids and Covid-19.

He was the chairperson of the South African ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19; and in December 2020, received the John Maddox Prize, together with Dr Anthony Fauci, for standing up for science.

Asked for his thoughts on the Covid-19 tragedy currently unfolding in India, he said that mutations were not unusual.

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“All viruses over time will mutate and, as they evolve, they get better and better at causing infection,” he said.

“In the case of the coronavirus the mutations have been converging around three or four key points at which the mutations are occurring.”

The new coronavirus variants seen in India, South Africa and Brazil had followed substantial, but less severe, waves of the pandemic.

“All viruses over time will mutate and, as they evolve, they get better and better at causing infection. In the case of the coronavirus the mutations have been converging around three or four key points at which the mutations are occurring.”
Professor Salim Abdool Karim

“In every one of those three countries there has been a different form of the virus, a new variant, and in each of these countries they have had much worse second waves,” Karim said.

“It’s heartbreaking to see what’s going on in India. That new variant is spreading so fast, and in spreading fast it’s also leading to many more younger people coming in, in need of care.”

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