Science & Tech

'Disease X' outbreak is a matter of 'when' warns WHO director

'Disease X' outbreak is a matter of 'when' warns WHO director
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: Covid-19 has humbled us all

The World Health Organisation chief has warned that it is "a matter of when, not if" a new pandemic will break out.

Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, said there was a high likelihood of so-called Disease X striking at some point.

He said: "Today I stand before you in the aftermath of Covid-19 with millions of people dead, with social, economic and political shocks that reverberate to this day.

"Although some progress has been made, like improvements in surveillance, the Pandemic Fund, building capacities in vaccine production … the world is not prepared for a pandemic.

"The painful lessons we learned are in danger of being forgotten as attention turns to the many other crises confronting our world.”

Tedros, who goes by his first name, told attendees at a WHO summit last week that there was an urgent need for a global treaty on pandemic preparedness.

He said it was "mission critical for humanity," adding that without such a deal "we will pay dearly next time, and there will be a next time."

"It may be caused by an influenza virus, or a new coronavirus or a new pathogen we don’t even know about yet — what we call Disease X."

Scientists think a Disease X could be as much as 20 times deadlier than Covid-19, and that it could cause a "serious international epidemic," according to WHO documents.

"As things stand, the world remains unprepared for the next Disease X, and the next pandemic," Tedros said.

"We first used the term Disease X in 2018, the same time as I spoke here at this World Governments Summit, as a placeholder for a disease we don’t even know about yet, but for which we can nonetheless prepare.

"Covid-19 was a Disease X, a new pathogen causing a new disease. But there will be another Disease X, or a Disease Y or a Disease Z."

Tedros and international governments have been working towards a treaty on pandemic preparedness, with a May deadline fast approaching.

He said one barrier was a "litany of lies and conspiracy theories about the agreement".

"That it’s a power grab by the World Health Organization. That it will cede sovereignty to WHO. That it will give WHO power to impose lockdowns or vaccine mandates on countries.

"That it’s an 'attack on freedom.' That WHO will not allow people to travel, and that WHO wants to control people's lives.

"These are some of the lies that are being spread. If they weren't so dangerous, these lies would be funny. But they put the health of the world's people at risk. And that is no laughing matter.

"These claims are utterly, completely, categorically false. … Anyone who says it will is either uninformed or lying."

Tedros said there is a draft copy of the agreement on the WHO website and urged people to read it for themselves.

He added: "Let me be clear: WHO did not impose anything on anyone during the Covid-19 pandemic. Not lockdowns, not mask mandates, not vaccine mandates.

"We don't have the power to do that, we don't want it and we're not trying to get it."

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