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Disease X Could Bring Next Pandemic, Kill 50 Million People, Says Expert

LONDON, Sept 26: A UK health expert has said that Disease X, the name given by World Health Organisation (WHO), can cause another pandemic deadlier than Covid-19.

In an interview to Daily Mail, Kate Bingham, who served as the chair of the UK's Vaccine Taskforce from May to December 2020, said the new virus could have a similar impact to the devastating Spanish Flu of 1919-1920. According to WHO, Disease X could be a new agent - a virus, a bacterium or fungus - without any known treatments.

Expressing her concern, Ms Bingham said, "Let me put it this way: the 1918-19 flu pandemic killed at least 50 million people worldwide, twice as many as were killed in World War I. Today, we could expect a similar death toll from one of the many viruses that already exist."

If the world has to tackle the threat from Disease X, "the world will have to prepare for mass vaccination drives and deliver the doses in record time", she told the Daily Mail.

The expert further said that scientists have identified 25 virus families, but there could be more than one million undiscovered variants, which may be able to jump from one species to another.

"In a sense, we got lucky with Covid-19, despite the fact that it caused 20 million or more deaths across the world. The point is that the vast majority of people infected with the virus managed to recover... Imagine Disease X is as infectious as measles with the fatality rate of Ebola. Somewhere in the world, it's replicating, and sooner or later, somebody will start feeling sick," said Ms Bingham.

Ebola had a fatality rate of around 67 per cent, and she added that others like bird flu and MERS also killed a large number of people. "So we certainly can't bank on the next pandemic being easily contained."

Ms Bingham also explained why the number of pandemics are increasing.

"The increase in outbreaks is the price we're having to pay for living in the modern world. First, it's increasingly connected through globalisation. Second, more and more people are cramming into cities, where they often come into close contact with others," said Ms Bingham.

And viruses are jumping from one species to another because of deforestation, modern agricultural methods and the destruction of wetlands.

WHO first mentioned about Disease X on its website in May.

It said that the term "represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease".

The WHO started using the term in 2018. And a year later, Covid-19 began to spread across the world.

World leaders commit to new targets to end TB

UNITED NATIONS, Sept 22: World leaders at the United Nations General Assembly’s High-Level Meeting on Tuberculosis have approved a Political Declaration with ambitious new targets for the next five years to advance the global efforts towards ending the TB epidemic.

The targets include reaching 90% of people with TB prevention and care services, using a WHO-recommended rapid test as the first method of diagnosing TB; providing social benefit packages to all people with TB; licensing at least one new TB vaccine; and closing funding gaps for TB implementation and research by 2027.

“For millennia, our ancestors have suffered and died with tuberculosis, without knowing what it was, what caused it, or how to stop it,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“Today, we have knowledge and tools they could only have dreamed of. The political declaration countries approved today, and the targets they have set, are a commitment to use those tools, and develop new ones, to write the final chapter in the story of TB.”

Taking stock of progress towards targets set in 2018 for a five-year period, WHO reported that while global efforts to combat TB have saved over 75 million lives since the year 2000, they fell short of reaching the targets, mainly due to severe disruptions to TB services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing conflicts. Only 34 million people of the intended 40 million people with TB were reached with treatment between 2018 and 2022.

For TB preventive treatment, the situation was even more grim, with only 15.5 million of the 30 million people targeted to be reached with preventive treatment accessing it.

Funding for TB services in low- and middle-income countries fell from US$ 6.4 billion in 2018 to US$ 5.8 billion in in 2022, representing a 50% financing gap in implementing the required TB programmes. Annual funding for TB research ranged from US$ 0.9 billion to US$ 1.0 billion between 2018 and 2022, which is just half of the target set in 2018.

This has placed an even heavier burden on those affected, especially the most vulnerable. Today, TB remains one of the world’s top infectious killers: annually more than 10 million people fall sick, and over 1 million lose their lives to this preventable and curable disease. Drug-resistant TB continues to be a major contributor to antimicrobial resistance with close to half a million people developing drug-resistant TB every year.

“Uniting around the TB response by world leaders, for a second time, provides an opportunity to accelerate action and strengthen health systems capable of not only addressing the TB epidemic, but also protecting the broader health and well‑being of communities, strengthening pandemic preparedness and building on lessons learnt during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr Tereza Kasaeva, Director of the WHO Global TB Programme.

“Averting TB-related financial hardship and preventing the development of the disease in vulnerable groups will help diminish inequities within and between countries, contributing to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

TB incidence and deaths have risen between 2020 and 2021 but coordinated efforts by countries, WHO and partners are resulting in a recovery of essential services.

In the lead-up to this historic meeting, WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, officially launched the TB vaccine accelerator council to facilitate the development, licensing and use of new TB vaccines. The Council, supported by the WHO secretariat, will be led by a ministerial board, consisting of nine members who will serve on a rotating basis, for a term of two years.

The Council will also have subsidiary bodies to support its interaction and engagement with different sectors and stakeholders broadly, including the private sector, scientists, philanthropy, and civil society.

BCG is currently the only licensed TB vaccine. While it provides moderate efficacy in preventing severe forms of TB in infants and young children, it does not adequately protect adolescents and adults, who account for the majority (>90%) of TB transmission globally.

The Council aims to identify innovative sustainable financing, market solutions and partnerships across public, private, and philanthropic sectors. It will leverage platforms like the African Union, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), BRICS countries (Brazil, Russian Federation, India, China and South Africa), G20, G7 and others to strengthen commitment and actions for novel TB vaccine development and access.

‘Nipah virus mortality rate very high than Covid-19’: ICMR director general

NEW DELHI, Sept 15: Director general of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Rajeev Bahl on Friday said the mortality rate among those infected with the Nipah virus is much higher compared to that of Covid-19 pandemic.

Addressing a press conference, Bahl said while Covid had a mortality rate of two to three percent, Nipah has a death rate of 40 to 70 percent.

Asserting that they are making all efforts to contain the spread of the deadly virus in the southern state, the ICMR DG said, “We do not know why the cases keep surfacing. In 2018, we found the outbreak in Kerala was related to bats. We are not sure how the infection passed from bats to humans. The link could not be established. Again we are trying to find out this time. It always happens in the rainy season."

According to the ICMR DG, India will be procuring 20 more doses of monoclonal antibody from Australia for the treatment of Nipah virus infection.

“We got some doses of monoclonal antibody from Australia in 2018. Currently, the doses are available for only 10 patients," he said.

“…20 more doses are being procured. However, the medicine needs to be given during the early stage of the infection. Only phase 1 trial to establish the safety of the medicine has been done outside. Efficacy trials have not been done. It can only given as compassionate use medicine,” Bahl said.

While globally the antibody has been successfully given to 14 patients, no one in India has been administered with the doses so far.

A total of six people have tested positive for the deadly Nipah virus, out of which two died due to the infection. In view of this, restrictions have been tightened in the Kozhikode district with the administration shutting all educational institutions, parks, and beaches. Prayer gatherings at religious institutions and other public programs have also been banned.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, 11 samples of suspected cases and their contacts returned as ‘negative’ from the National Institute of Virology in Pune. Subsequently, 15 other samples were collected and sent for testing.

What is Nipah virus?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Nipah virus infection is a zoonotic illness that is transmitted via animals to humans, and can also be transmitted via contaminated food or directly between people and is caused by fruit bats. The virus is not only fatal for humans, but for animals as well. The virus can also cause severe disease in animals such as pigs, resulting in significant economic losses for farmers, WHO said.

The symptoms of the Nipah virus are similar to Covid-19 - cough, sore throat, dizziness, drowsiness, muscle pain, tiredness, encephalitis (swelling of the brain), headache, stiff neck, sensitivity to light, mental confusion, and seizures.


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