WHO Issues List of Top Emerging Diseases Likely to Cause Major Epidemics

A panel of scientists and public health experts convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) met in Geneva last week to prioritize the top five to 10 emerging pathogens likely to cause severe outbreaks in the near future, and for which few or no medical countermeasures exist. These diseases will provide the basis for work on the WHO Blueprint for R&D preparedness to help control potential future outbreaks.

The initial list of disease priorities needing urgent R&D attention are: Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever, Ebola virus disease and Marburg, Lassa fever, MERS and SARS coronavirus diseases, Nipah and Rift Valley fever. The list will be reviewed annually or when new diseases emerge.

This priority list forms the backbone of the new WHO Blueprint for R&D preparedness by focusing accelerated R&D on dangerous pathogens which are the most prone to generate epidemics. As well as advocating for the initiation or enhancement of the R&D process to develop diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics for the five to 10 diseases, the Blueprint will also consider behavioral interventions, and filling critical gaps in scientific knowledge to allow the design of better disease control measures.

The group of experts who developed the list represented a range of disciplines, including virology, microbiology, immunology, public health, clinical medicine, mathematical and computational modelling, product development, and respiratory and severe emerging infections. The conclusions of the experts were reviewed by the Blueprint’s independent Scientific Advisory Group.

Future action in this area includes fine-tuning of the prioritization methodology and the development of practical tools to assess any new diseases that may emerge.

Three other diseases were designated as serious, requiring action by WHO to promote R&D as soon as possible: chikungunya, severe fever with thrombocytopaenia syndrome, and Zika.

Other diseases with epidemic potential -- such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, avian influenza and dengue -- were not included in the list because there are major disease control and research networks for these infections, and an existing pipeline for improved interventions.

Source: WHO