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What is Disease X and why is WHO keeping a close watch?

What is Disease X and why is WHO keeping a close watch?

The Disease X has been identified as an unknown pathogen that has the potential to cause a serious international epidemic, according to the World Health Organization.

The pathogen list was first published in 2017 and the last prioritisation exercise was done in 2018. The pathogen list was first published in 2017 and the last prioritisation exercise was done in 2018.

The World Health Organization (WHO), in its latest release, has said that it will update a list of priority pathogens that can cause outbreaks and pandemics across the world, and countries should keep close watch. The WHO has said that it will also include Disease X in the list. The Disease X has been identified as an unknown pathogen that has the potential to cause a serious international epidemic. 

According to WHO, the process will include both scientific and public health criteria, as well as criteria related to socioeconomic impact, access, and equity. 

The global health body has said the list is being updated to guide global investment, research and development (R&D), especially in vaccines, tests and treatments. The updation process started on Friday, under which the health agency has roped in over 300 scientists to analyse evidence on more than two dozen virus families and bacteria. 

The list was first published in 2017 and the last prioritisation exercise was done in 2018. The current list includes Covid-19, Crimean-Cong haemorrhagic fever, Ebola virus disease and Marburg virus disease, Lassa fever, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Nipah and henipaviral diseases, Rift Valley fever, Zika and Disease X. The revised pathogen list is expected to be out in the first quarter of 2023. 

“Targeting priority pathogens and virus families for research and development of countermeasures is essential for a fast and effective epidemic and pandemic response. Without significant R&D investments prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, it would not have been possible to have safe and effective vaccines developed in record time,” said Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme. 

As per the details, for the pathogens which will be identified as priority, the WHO R&D Blueprint for epidemics develops R&D roadmaps, which lay out knowledge gaps and research priorities. Where relevant, target product profiles, which inform developers about the desired specifications for vaccines, treatments, and diagnostic tests, are developed. Efforts are also made to map, compile and facilitate clinical trials to develop these tools.  

Complimentary efforts – such as to strengthen regulatory and ethics oversight – are also considered. 

“This list of priority pathogens has become a reference point for the research community on where to focus energies to manage the next threat,” said Dr Soumya Swaminathan, WHO Chief Scientist.