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Worldwide, the number of potential pathogens is very large, while the resources for disease research and development (R&D) is limited. To ensure efforts under WHO’s R&D Blueprint are focused and productive, a list of diseases and pathogens are prioritized for R&D in public health emergency contexts.
A WHO tool distinguishes which diseases pose the greatest public health risk due to their epidemic potential and/or whether there is no or insufficient countermeasures.
At present, the priority diseases are:
- 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
- “Disease X”*
This is not an exhaustive list, nor does it indicate the most likely causes of the next epidemic. WHO reviews and updates this list as needs arise, and methodologies change. Based on the priority diseases, WHO then works to develop R&D roadmaps for each one.
* Disease X represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease. The R&D Blueprint explicitly seeks to enable early cross-cutting R&D preparedness that is also relevant for an unknown “Disease X”.