Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, has been appointed Assistant Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in charge of Health Emergency Intelligence. The appointment takes effect from November 1, 2021.

A statement by WHO Director General, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, yesterday, explained that Ihekweazu would lead the work on strengthening pandemic and epidemic intelligence globally, including heading the WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence in Berlin, which was launched yesterday.

Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo State and a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Professor Kingsley Moghalu, lauded the appointment, calling it well-deserved.

The WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence is a global platform for creating shared and networked access to vital multi-sectoral data, driving innovations in data analytics, and building the communities of practice needed to predict, prevent, detect, prepare for, and respond to worldwide health threats.

In addition, the WHO Hub is a new global collaboration of countries and partners dedicated to driving innovations to increase availability and linkage of diverse data; developing tools and predictive models for risk analysis; and monitoring disease control measures and infodemics.

The WHO Hub would enable partners from around the world to collaborate and co-create the tools and data access that all countries need to prepare, detect and respond to pandemic and epidemic risks.

The statement by the WHO director-general said, “I am pleased to welcome Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu as an Assistant Director-General for Health Emergency Intelligence from November 1, 2021. He will lead the work on strengthening pandemic and epidemic intelligence globally, including heading the WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence in Berlin.

“I am confident that Dr. Ihekweazu’s appointment will help further accelerate WHO’s work in health emergencies.

“Please, join me in welcoming him to WHO.”

Speaking on the need for the new global initiative, German Chancellor, Dr. Angela Merkel, was quoted as saying, “The current COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that we can only fight pandemics and epidemics together. The new WHO Hub will be a global platform for pandemic prevention, bringing together various governmental, academic and private sector institutions.

“I am delighted that WHO chose Berlin as its location and invite partners from all around the world to contribute to the WHO hub.”

The German Minister of Health, Jens Spahn, said there was need to identify pandemic and epidemic risks as quickly as possible.

Spahn stated, “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.

“Germany has consistently been committed to support WHO’s work in preparing for and responding to health emergencies, and the WHO Hub is a concrete initiative that will make the world safer.”

The minister assured that the WHO Hub would work with partners globally to achieve a scale-up in innovation for existing forecasting and early warning capacities in WHO and member states.

He also said the WHO Hub would accelerate global collaborations across public and private sector organisations, academia, and international partner networks.

According to Spahn the pandemic intelligence hub would help countries to collaborate and co-create the necessary tools for managing and analysing data for early warning surveillance.

Ihekweazu, while speaking in an exclusive interview with THISDAY, said the decision to appoint him to lead the global initiative was a recognition of the work the NCDC under his leadership.

Ihekweazu said, “It is in recognition of what we have done in Nigeria with the NCDC, the Federal Ministry of Health, and the Presidential Steering Committee in responding to this pandemic in Nigeria; in responding to many other infectious disease threats that have happened over the last few years – monkey pox, Lassa fever and the rest of them.

“Also, it is in recognising that in order to have a global initiative to respond, there is need to have deep knowledge about how local systems work. So, I think it is a recognition that the work that we have done over the past five years to develop this system will have a big contribution in the global context.”

The NCDC boss was trained as an infectious disease epidemiologist, and he has over 20 years experience working in senior public health and leadership positions in several National Public Health Institutes, including the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD); the United Kingdom’s Health Protection Agency; and Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

He has led several short-term engagements for WHO, mainly in response to major infectious disease outbreaks around the world.

Ihekweazu, a Nigerian, was born in Germany. He is a graduate of the College of Medicine, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and holds a Master in Public Health (MPH) degree from the Heinrich-Heine University, Dusseldorf, Germany.

In 2003, he was awarded a Fellowship for the European Programme for Intervention Epidemiology Training (EPIET) and, subsequently, completed his Public Health specialisation in the United Kingdom. He is widely published in medical peer-review journals.

Meanwhile, Uzodimma lauded the appointment of Ihekweazu as WHO Assistant Director-General.

The governor said in a statement by his Special Adviser (SA) Media/Chief Press Secretary, Oguwike Nwachuku, he wasn’t surprised over the appointment because Ihekweazu demonstrated capacity and exhibited professional competence as DG of NCDC.

“Ihekweazu is one of Imo State’s best and brightest and that the state is proud to be part of the human capital contributing towards the wellbeing of the global family,” the governor stated.

Uzodimma reiterated that Ihekweazu’s pick was fundamental because, “it will help to further bring Imo State into global focus, particularly Amaigbo in Nwangele Local Government Area of the state where the NCDC DG hails from.”

The governor urged Ihekweazu to continue to do the state proud, and assured him of the support of the government and good people of Imo State to ensure that his outing at the WHO is exemplary.

THISDAY LIVE