The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that it is in the process of updating a list for priority pathogens that can cause outbreaks and pandemics and should be kept under close observation. In the release, the WHO said that the scientific process will guide global investment, research and development (R&D), especially in vaccines, tests and treatments. The process started on Friday and the health agency has called over 300 scientists to go through the evidence on more than two dozen virus families and bacteria.
The scientists will also look at the evidence about “Disease X” – an unknown pathogen that has the potential to cause a serious international epidemic.
The WHO said that the experts will recommend a list of priority pathogens that need further research and investment – it will include both scientific and public health criteria, as well as criteria related to socioeconomic impact, access, and equity.
“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,” Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, was quoted as saying in the release.
The list was first published in 2017 and the last prioritisation exercise was done in 2018.
It 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 list of priority pathogens will help researchers identify where they need to invest energy and funds to develop tests, treatments and vaccines, said WHO chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan.
The revised list is expected to be published in the first quarter of 2023.
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