For many around the world, next week is a holiday that signifies something far more important than giving and receiving gifts. For others it may simply be a day like any other. Regardless of your nationality or religious belief, the spirit of giving lives in us all. It is also a time of reflection and prediction, so it was with interest I read the WHO’s published list of the Top Emerging Diseases likely to cause major epidemics.
According to the WHO, a panel of scientists and public health experts met in Geneva to prioritize the top 5 to 10 emerging pathogens that are likely to cause severe outbreaks in the near future, which few or no medical countermeasures exist. The initial list of diseases needing urgent R&D attention are Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola Virus, Marburg Virus, Lassa Fever, MERS and SARS Coronavirus diseases, Nipah and Rift Valley Fever. Three other diseases were designated as serious, requiring action by WHO to promote R&D as soon as possible including Chikungunya, Severe Fever with Thrombocytopaenia Syndrome, and Zika Virus.
According to the WHO missive, this priority list forms the backbone of the new WHO Blueprint for R&D preparedness to help focus accelerated R&D programs on the world’s most dangerous pathogens – those most prone to generate epidemics. The intent by identifying these pathogens is also to advocate for the initiation or enhancement of the R&D process to develop diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics for these identified diseases. Additionally, the blueprint will also consider behavioural interventions, and how to fill critical gaps in scientific knowledge that will help in the design of better disease control measures.
What’s interesting in looking into the routes of transmission is several of these viruses are transmitted via vectors such as mosquitoes or ticks while others are zoonotic in nature and have found a way to infect humans and further transmission by direct human to human contact. As the year draws to an end, this list reminds us yet again how small our world is. Ebola, which was once thought to be a disease of Africa, has shown that it can with ease move around the world. As our world increases in population, we generate more waste which provides fertile breeding grounds for mosquitoes, and as our cities grow and expand to areas that were once fields and forests we live closer to areas with higher rodents and other animals that have the ability to spread diseases directly to us or through other routes such as tick bites.
As this season of giving and receiving draws near, I hope you’ll take a few moments to reflect on your past year, your health, the health of your loved ones and the health of those who live in areas that have been ravaged by outbreaks. While there are certainly a number of materialistic things I would like to see under the tree Christmas Day, for 2016 I hope for a year where researchers can make tremendous strides in developing vaccines or other treatments to fight these emerging diseases. All I truly want for Christmas is a world where fewer people will have to suffer, be it from communicable diseases, hospital acquired infections or emerging pathogens.