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New Delhi: Even as the world recovers from the impact of the Covid pandemic, bio-scientists have started a global search to identify micro-organisms that could potentially trigger another public health crisis.

Last week, the WHO held a meeting of 300 top scientists from across the world to discuss 25 virus families and bacteria, as well as Disease X’.

According to the UN health body, ‘Disease X’ has been included to indicate an unknown pathogen that could cause a serious international epidemic.

“The WHO is launching a global scientific process to update the list of priority pathogens-agents that can cause outbreaks or pandemics to guide global investment, research and development (R&D), especially in vaccines, tests and treatments,” officials said.

The first such list of micro-organisms that can cause a public health crisis of international concern was published in 2017 and the last prioritisation exercise was done the next year. According to the WHO, the current list includes Covid-19, CrimeanCong haemorrhagic fever, Ebola virus disease and Marburg virus disease, Lassa fe ver, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Nipah and henipaviral diseases, Rift Valley fever, Zika and Disease X.

“Targeting priority pathogens and virus families for research and development of counter-measures is essential for a fast and effective epidemic and pandemic re sponse. 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 Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO’s health emergencies programme.

“This list of priority pathogens has become a reference point for the research community on where to focus energies to manage the next threat,” said WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan. “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.”

The revised list is expected to be published in the first quarter of 2023.

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