The World Health Organization is thrashing out a new list of priority pathogens that require close observation as they could risk sparking pandemics or outbreaks. The list is also aimed at guiding global research and development, especially in vaccines, tests and treatment.
“Targeting priority pathogens and virus families for research and development of countermeasures is essential for a fast and effective pandemic response,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan said.
“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,” he added.
The list, first published in 2017, includes COVID-19, Ebola and Marbug virus diseases, Lassa fever, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Nipah, Zika and Disease X – an unknown pathogen that could cause a serious international epidemic.
For each priority pathogen, experts will pinpoint knowledge gaps and research priorities. Desired specifications for vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tests can then be drawn up. Efforts are also made to facilitate clinical trials to develop such tools, while efforts to strengthen regulatory and ethics oversight are also considered.
The pathogen threat sessions come as WHO prepares for the next round of talks towards a pandemic treaty that could eventually regulate how nations prepare for and respond to future pandemic threats.
In response to the initial draft that emerged last week, the Panel for a Global Public Health Convention, an independent coalition of statespersons and health leaders said that it did not go far enough, despite its bright spots. It said more should be done to establish accountability and clear timelines for alert and response to avoid damaging consequences when an outbreak emerges.
As the world is starting to see the end of the current pandemic, it is imperative that we should also be deep into preparations for the next possible threat, using the lessons humanity painfully learned from the past couple of years.*