The head of the World Health Organization has called on countries to sign the health organization’s pandemic treaty to prepare the world for a “Disease X,” an undesignated term for a future pandemic that could be more deadly than anything humanity has faced.
Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday, noting that he hoped nations across the world would reach a pandemic agreement by May to address a future danger, according to the New York Post. Scientists have speculated that “Disease X” could be up to 20 times more deadly than COVID-19.
Ghebreyesus said COVID-19 was the first Disease X, and that it will be important for countries around the world to be better prepared for the next one that comes around. The WHO added that the moniker “represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease.”
USA Today reported that in 2018, the WHO added “Disease X” to its list of priority diseases and pathogens specifically targeted for research. The plan includes diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and Ebola, and its aim is to “fast-track the availability of effective tests, vaccines and medicines” that could save lives during a serious health emergency.
“There are things that are unknown that may happen, and anything happening is a matter of when, not if, so we need to have a placeholder for that, for the diseases we don’t know,” Ghebreyesus said.
“We lost many people [during COVID] because we couldn’t manage them,” Ghebreyesus added. “They could have been saved, but there was no space. There was not enough oxygen. So how can you have a system that can expand when the need comes?”
Ghebreyesus went on to suggest that the best way to prepare for such a possibility would be to get a treaty drafted that countries can get behind.
“The pandemic agreement can bring all the experience, all the challenges that we have faced and all the solutions into one,” Ghebreyesus said. “That agreement can help us to prepare for the future in a better way.”
“This is a common global interest, and very narrow national interests should not come into the way.”
It is uncertain how many countries plan to sign the treaty.