The World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus issued a warning recently that the world must prepare to battle a pandemic that could be “even deadlier” than the Covid-19 pandemic. “The end of Covid-19 as a global health emergency is not the end of Covid-19 as a global health threat,” Tedros said at the 76th World health assembly.
He set the alarm bells ringing by saying the next pandemic will not wait for us and that we must be ready in advance. “When the next pandemic comes knocking, and it will, we must be ready to answer decisively, collectively, and equitably,” he said.
The health agency listed several priority diseases on its website that can pose a public health risk due to their potential to turn into endemic.
The list consisted of diseases like Covid-19, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, Ebola virus disease and Marburg disease, Lassa fever, MERS-CoV and SARS, Nipah and Nipah virus diseases, Rift Valley fever, Zika, and “Disease X”.
We are familiar with most of the names as the world has already witnessed them, but the final entry, ‘Disease X’, has caused some confusion. The term ‘Disease X’ “represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease,” according to WHO.
The WHO started using the term in 2018, a year before Covid-19 began to be a dreaded disease. It could be a new agent, ie. a virus, a bacterium, or a fungus and we may witness a scarcity of vaccines and even a lack of effective treatments.
Dr Michael Ryan, who is the executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, had said, “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.”
Even though the world moved on from the abrasion caused by the Covid-19, the horrors of the world coming to a standstill over the medical emergency are stills fresh in memories. While the virus took thousands of lives and left millions infected, it was a wake-up call about the need to improve public health systems. For now, the health experts are focusing on increasing surveillance and raising additional funds to come up with possible countermeasures.