What Is Disease X And What Its Presence On WHO’s Priority List Mean

The current WHO priority list of pathogens includes Covid-19, Ebola, Zika, SERS and MERS, Nipah Virus, and Disease X.

Varun Verma
Written by: Varun VermaUpdated at: Nov 25, 2022 16:40 IST
What Is Disease X And What Its Presence On WHO’s Priority List Mean

The World Health Organization (WHO) is updating its list of priority pathogens that could potentially cause global outbreaks or pandemics in the future. The viruses on the list will be closely monitored as a preventive measure in case of a pandemic. Earlier in 2017, the WHO published the first such list, while in 2018 a recent prioritisation exercise was conducted. Disease X is on the priority list of the organisation.

Viruses on the List

The following are the viruses on the WHO’s priority list at the moment:

  • Covid-19 
  • Crimean-Cong haemorrhagic fever
  • Ebola and Marburg virus diseases 
  • Lassa fever 
  • Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) 
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)
  • Nipah and henipaviral diseases
  • Rift Valley fever
  • Zika
  • Disease X

What Disease X on the List Denotes?

Disease X is an unidentified pathogen and its presence on the priority list represents the possibility of it causing a serious global epidemic. The WHO has invited more than 300 scientists to work, examine, and advance research on more than 25 viral and bacterial families, and Disease X is among them.

Why List Revision is Needed?

According to Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director of WHO's Health Emergencies Programme, Targeting priority pathogens and viral families can contribute to the creation of vaccines.

He remarked, “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.” 

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

The list will help researchers to decide where to invest funds and energy for developing tests, treatments, and vaccines, Dr Swaminathan added. Earlier in 2017, the WHO published the first such list, while in 2018 a recent prioritisation exercise was conducted.

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