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WHO sets up team to hunt down ‘Disease X’

WHO Disease X

HQ Team

November 22, 2022: The WHO is preparing for an unknown “Disease X” epidemic by convening more than 300 global scientists to draw evidence from more than 25 virus families and bacteria.

The experts will suggest a list of priority pathogens that need further research and investment, according to a statement.

“The process will include both scientific and public health criteria, as well as criteria related to socioeconomic impact, access, and equity.”

The current Covid-19 pandemic has claimed the lives of more than 6.5 million people globally.

Lassa fever

The priority pathogens list was first published in 2017 and include Covid-19, Ebola virus disease, Lassa fever, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Rift Valley fever, Zika, and “Disease X”. 

“Disease X” indicates an unknown pathogen that could cause a severe international epidemic, the WHO stated.

The probe has already begun and will guide global investment, and research and development (R&D), especially in vaccines, tests, and treatments.

“Targeting priority pathogens and virus families for research and development of countermeasures is essential for a fast and effective epidemic and pandemic response,” said Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme.

Prior investments

“Without significant R&D investments before the Covid-19 pandemic, it would not have been possible to have safe and effective vaccines developed in record time”, he said. 

The experts, by early 2023, will help develop R&D roadmaps for priority pathogens by charting out knowledge gaps and areas for research. 

They will also determine desired specifications for vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tests, where it is relevant. Efforts will also be made to map, compile and facilitate clinical trials to develop these tools. 

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