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The World Health Organization (WHO) will soon be updating the list of priority pathogens, including “Disease X", that can cause future outbreaks and pandemics. The list is being updated to guide global investment, research and development (R&D), especially in vaccines, tests and treatments.

The WHO, in a statement, said that the health body is convening over 300 scientists who will consider the evidence on over 25 virus families and bacteria and the “Disease X", which can cause a serious international endemic.

The scientists would then prepare a list of priority pathogens that would be researched on to understand them better. The list of pathogens was first published in 2017 and the prioritisation was done a year later.

The list included viruses such as coronavirus, 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.

Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director of WHO's Health Emergencies Programme, said that identifying viruses is an essential exercise in taking a response against them. Without the prior identification and funding, it would not have been possible to make a vaccine on time.

He 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," said.

The list is necessary as the research communities can focus the energy on them to efficiently manage the next threat, WHO chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan said.

“It is developed together with experts in the field, and is the agreed direction for where we--as a global research community--need to invest energy and funds to develop tests, treatments and vaccines. We thank our donors like the US government, our partners, and the scientists who work with WHO to make this possible," she said.

(With agency inputs)

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