WHO Releases 2018 Priority Diseases List

Experts say that, given their potential to cause a public health emergency and the absence of efficacious drugs and/or vaccines, there is an urgent need for accelerated research and development about them.

The World Health Organization has published its second list of prioritized diseases, identifying which diseases and pathogens should be prioritizes for research and development in public health emergency contexts. This tool seeks to identify diseases that pose a public health risk because of their epidemic potential and for which there are no, or insufficient, countermeasures.

WHO said that, while the diseases identified through its process are the focus of the work of R& D Blueprint, "this is not an exhaustive list, nor does it indicate the most likely causes of the next epidemic."

The first list of prioritized diseases was released in December 2015. The second annual review occurred Feb. 6-7, 2018.

Experts say that, given their potential to cause a public health emergency and the absence of efficacious drugs and/or vaccines, there is an urgent need for accelerated research and development for these:

  • Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever
  • Ebola virus disease and Marburg virus disease
  • Lassa fever
  • Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)
  • Nipah and henipaviral diseases
  • Rift Valley fever
  • Zika
  • Disease X

According to WHO, Disease X "represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease, and so the R&D Blueprint explicitly seeks to enable cross-cutting R&D preparedness that is also relevant for an unknown 'Disease X' as far as possible."

Its announcement said additional diseases were discussed and considered for inclusion in the priority list, including: Arenaviral hemorrhagic fevers other than Lassa Fever; Chikungunya; highly pathogenic coronaviral diseases other than MERS and SARS; emergent non-polio enteroviruses (including EV71, D68); and Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome.

The diseases that are listed pose major public health risks and further research and development is needed, including surveillance and diagnostics. They should be watched carefully and considered again at the next annual review, according to WHO.

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