Professor Sow Named WHO COVID-19 Advisor

February 28, 2020    |  

Samba Sow, MD, MSc, FASTMH, director general of the Center for Vaccine Development in Mali (CVD-Mali), and adjunct professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM), was appointed by the World Health Organization (WHO) to serve as a special envoy on issues related to coronavirus COVID-19.

Sow was named by WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, as one of six special envoys on COVID-19 to provide strategic advice and high-level political advocacy and engagement in different parts of the world, including Africa. The appointment comes as WHO has identified several priority countries in Africa at risk because of their direct links to China or their high volume of travel with China. WHO officials have formally declared the outbreak of the novel coronavirus that first emerged in Wuhan, China, a public health emergency, and they are weighing whether spread of the virus will result in a pandemic.

“I am honored to help better understand and contain this novel coronavirus. I applaud Dr. Ghebreyesus for taking such a strong leadership role in addressing this issue on a global scale. There are many unknowns about this new illness, but what we have learned from past experience is that a proactive approach can help to contain spread of contagious illnesses,” Sow said.

Sow has a distinguished career in public health. Most notably, he received the highest honor from the French Government, when he was decorated as a Knight of the Legion of Honor, for his role in containing an outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa. Sow also has served as Mali’s Minister of Health and Public Hygiene and as the chief architect of health policy aimed at improving maternal health and reducing child mortality, a model that could set the stage for global health initiatives. He continues to lead CVD-Mali, a venture established in 2001 by Mali’s Ministry of Health and the UMSOM Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health (CVD).  

“Dr. Ghebreyesus’ selection of Dr. Sow is another testament to the high regard in which Dr. Sow is held in the global public health community and it is an acknowledgement of his exceptional work during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.”, said Kathleen Neuzil, MD, MPH, the Myron M. Levine MD, DTPH, Professor in Vaccinology and director of CVD.  

Sow’s career has been focused on reducing morbidity and mortality. Among his work, he led clinical trials that informed the introduction of a vaccine that has nearly eliminated Meningitis A in areas of Africa where the deadly disease was common. To date, more than 220 million people have received this vaccine in more than two dozen countries.

Dr. Samba Sow in the Field
Samba O. Sow, MD, MSc, working in the field in Mali.

His expertise in infectious diseases was credited as helping to contain the Ebola virus outbreak, which occurred primarily in West Africa from 2013 to 2016. During that outbreak, more than 28,000 people were infected, resulting in more than 11,000 Ebola-linked deaths. In Mali, the disease was contained to eight cases. Sow is credited for the limited exposure in Mali, which was the result of his collaboration with the Malian government, civilian leaders, religious figures, and others to contain the epidemic.

 “Dr. Sow’s extensive experience in understanding and controlling infectious diseases will greatly benefit WHO as they face this newest challenge in COVID-19. He has received the highest recognitions globally for his work in helping to contain the spread of the deadly Ebola virus six years ago, and he continues to champion important initiatives that impact the lives of millions at risk with some of the world’s most complex diseases,”  said UMSOM Dean E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, who also is executive vice president for medical affairs, University of Maryland, Baltimore, and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor, UMSOM.