Davos 2024: Everything to know about Disease X unveiled by World Economic Forum

Davos 2024: Disease X is not a specific ailment but rather a term designated for a potential novel infectious agent. Let us dive into the hypothesis created by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and endorsed by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Mayank Kasyap
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Davos 2024: As winter sweeps in, bringing with it a surge in respiratory illnesses and the persistence of pandemic precautions like mask mandates, global health experts gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The focus of discussion was on the critical need for preplanning to tackle a hypothetical "Disease X" outbreak.

Davos 2024: What is Disease X?

Disease X is not a specific ailment but rather a term designated for a potential novel infectious agent. It signifies an unidentified illness with the potential to pose a significant microbial threat to humans. The urgency in preparation stems from the vast reservoir of viruses circulating among wildlife, which could become the source of a new infectious disease, challenging human immunity.

In 2018, the World Health Organisation (WHO) included Disease X in a list of high-priority pathogens for research, alongside notorious threats like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Ebola. Labelling it as "Disease X" aims to prioritise readiness for a disease lacking vaccines or drug treatments, capable of triggering a severe epidemic.

Davos 2024: Assessing potential impact of Disease X

The WHO has issued a stark warning, suggesting that Disease X could result in 20 times more fatalities than COVID-19, which has claimed approximately seven million lives worldwide. Health experts forecasted that any new pandemic could be even deadlier, potentially causing an estimated 50 million fatalities globally.

Davos 2024: Paving way for pandemic preparedness but why?

At the recent Davos summit, healthcare leaders stressed the importance of early preparations for Disease X, emphasising potential savings in lives and costs with proactive research and preemptive measures. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus highlighted ongoing measures, including a pandemic fund and a "technology transfer hub" in South Africa for local vaccine production.

Michel Demare, chair of the board at AstraZeneca, discussed the company's efforts to assess global health systems, presenting recommendations for effective pandemic management. Preetha Reddy, executive vice chairperson at Apollo Hospitals, underscored the focus on addressing inequity, particularly in rural areas of India, through technological interventions.

Davos 2024: Strategies for pandemic preparedness

Preparedness involves international collaboration, research and development, and country-level initiatives. Plans should encompass increasing hospital capacity, enhancing treatment supply chains, and integrating new technologies to support healthcare workers. Strengthening existing systems, rather than creating new ones, is recommended, along with testing any new systems before a pandemic strikes.

Increased disease surveillance to swiftly detect novel pathogens is crucial, considering an average discovery of at least two new viruses each year. Such measures, according to a study by the Gates Foundation-backed organisation Resolve to Save Lives, could significantly reduce the costs associated with future pandemics. Global investments of $124 billion over five years could enhance worldwide readiness for major epidemics.

Davos 2024: Concerns regarding the hyothesis

Despite the WHO classifying Disease X as a placeholder term in 2018, discussions at Davos sparked social media controversies. Many witter ccounts raised concerns about potential government overreach, speculating that Disease X discussions could lead to policies like vaccine and mask mandates. The WHO contends that designating Disease X allows governments to cope better with an unpredictable pandemic, considering limited resources for research and development.