Home Opinion and Features WHO alerts world leaders to risk of mass pathogen threat

WHO alerts world leaders to risk of mass pathogen threat

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The term “Disease X” refers to a hypothetical infectious condition that could emerge in the future, posing a significant risk of causing either an epidemic or a pandemic on a global scale.

The concept of “Disease X” serves as a warning from the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding potential future health threats. File picture

THE TERM “Disease X” refers to a hypothetical infectious condition that could emerge in the future, posing a significant risk of causing either an epidemic or a pandemic on a global scale.

Disease X represents a novel infection or mutation of an existing pathogen that enhances its virulence. Despite not currently existing, the concept serves as a warning from the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding potential future health threats.

Disease X remains a theoretical construct, first introduced by the WHO in 2017, to describe an unknown pathogen capable of sparking widespread illness.

This classification has newly discovered pathogens as well as known ones with the potential to cause large-scale outbreaks.

The urgency surrounding Disease X stems from the WHO’s efforts to alert global leaders to the looming risks of future pandemics, often emphasised during events like the World Economic Forum. Contrary to inducing panic, WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus argues that acknowledging and preparing for potential health crises is crucial in mitigating their impact, drawing lessons from historical pandemics.

As for the identity of the next Disease X, uncertainty prevails.

Coronaviruses, a diverse group of viruses, have long been considered prime candidates due to previous outbreaks like SARS and MERS. However, the widespread immunity resulting from Covid-19 infections might dampen the pandemic potential of similar coronaviruses. Nevertheless, numerous pathogens, including influenza strains and emerging viruses like Ebola and Zika, remain plausible contenders for sparking global health emergencies.

Efforts to combat Disease X involve proactive measures such as vaccine development and enhancing health-care infrastructure. The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated advancements in vaccine technology, such as mRNA vaccines, which could be swiftly adapted to target new pathogens. Additionally, improving early warning systems for disease surveillance and bolstering healthcare services’ capacity to handle surges in demand are essential strategies highlighted by Tedros to mitigate the impact of future outbreaks.

Disease X serves as a placeholder for unknown future health threats, prompting the need for proactive preparedness and response measures to safeguard against potential pandemics.

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