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World Health Organization Names UMSOM Faculty Member as COVID-19 Advisor

February 25, 2020 | Joanne Morrison

Samba O. Sow, MD, MSc

Dr. Samba Sow Will Serve as Special Envoy on COVID-19, Bringing Key Expertise on Containing Prior Outbreaks

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.

Dr. 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,” said Dr. Sow.

Dr. 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. Dr. Sow has also 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 the CVD.  

Dr. 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 FieldHis 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 8 cases. Dr. 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 is also Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, UM Baltimore, and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor, University of Maryland School of Medicine.“

About the University of Maryland School of Medicine

Now in its third century, the University of Maryland School of Medicine was chartered in 1807 as the first public medical school in the United States. It continues today as one of the fastest growing, top-tier biomedical research enterprises in the world -- with 45 academic departments, centers, institutes, and programs; and a faculty of more than 3,000 physicians, scientists, and allied health professionals, including members of the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, and a distinguished two-time winner of the Albert E. Lasker Award in Medical Research. With an operating budget of more than $1.2 billion, the School of Medicine works closely in partnership with the University of Maryland Medical Center and Medical System to provide research-intensive, academic and clinically based care for nearly 2 million patients each year. The School of Medicine has more than $540 million in extramural funding, with most of its academic departments highly ranked among all medical schools in the nation in research funding. As one of the seven professional schools that make up the University of Maryland, Baltimore campus, the School of Medicine has a total population of nearly 9,000 faculty and staff, including 2,500 student trainees, residents, and fellows. The combined School of Medicine and Medical System (“University of Maryland Medicine”) has an annual budget of nearly $6 billion and an economic impact more than $15 billion on the state and local community. The School of Medicine faculty, which ranks as the 8th highest among public medical schools in research productivity, is an innovator in translational medicine, with 600 active patents and 24 start-up companies. The School of Medicine works locally, nationally, and globally, with research and treatment facilities in 36 countries around the world. Visit

About the Center for Vaccine Development, Mali (CVD-Mali)

CVD-Mali’s mission to prevent, control and treat endemic and epidemic infectious diseases in Mali, with a focus on vaccine-preventable diseases. CVD-Mali was formed in 2001 as a formal agreement between the Ministry of  Health Mali and UMSOM’s CVD CVD-Mali, located in Bamako,  is dedicated to quantifying the burden of vaccine-preventable diseases, testing the safety of immunogenicity and efficacy of treatments and vaccines, and training Malian vaccinologists. As a part of the Ministry of Health, CVD-Mali has the opportunity to bring research results to the attention of decision-makers and directly impact public Health Policy.


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