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The Next Pandemic

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June 02, 2023

Why in news?

The WHO Director-general at the 76th world health assembly has cautioned against the threat of emerging pathogens.

What is a pandemic?

  • A pandemic is a disease outbreak that spreads across countries or continents.
  • COVID-19 is one such pandemic in recent years, which led to waves of infections and deaths in all countries.
  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that COVID-19 was no longer a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
  • The virus continues to have reservoirs in animals, but the likelihood to turn into a pandemic or public health threat is small.

How do pandemics happen?

  • Air travel - Ease of travel makes it likely for infections to spread to a large number of populations and countries.
  • Urbanisation - Large number of people living in close proximity.
  • Travel and density of population has played a role in previous pandemics as well.
  • The Spanish Flu of 1918 happened towards the end of World War I and spread through congested and overcrowded camps.
  • The deadliest pandemic Black Death is also thought to have come to Europe with rats that were aboard trading ships.

How has climate change impacted outbreaks and pandemics?

  • Climate plays several roles in outbreaks and pandemics.
  • Deforestation and encroachment of habitats of other animals has brought the humans and animals closer.
  • This increased human-animal interactions has led to more zoonotic transfer of diseases.
  • The climate itself may change the habitats of the disease-carrying vectors.
  • For example: The geographical range of dengue in the country expanded to hilly and colder regions.
  • Climate change also leads to extreme weather events that can displace people and force them to live in poor hygienic conditions.
  • Climate change may increase the risk of ‘viral spillover’ in some regions that could cause new pandemics.

What are pandemic potential pathogens?

  • Pandemic potential pathogens - The bacteria, viruses, or microorganisms that are highly transmissible capable of spreading unchecked amongst humans and highly virulent capable of causing severe disease and death.
  • Coronaviruses are one such pathogens that has pandemic potential.
  • Priority List - The WHO has a priority list of pathogens that are pandemic potential and don’t have adequate drugs and vaccines against them.
  • This list acts as the basis for prioritising research for developing diagnostics, drugs, and vaccines for these diseases.
  • The list includes -


  • The list also includes ‘Disease X’ which represents a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease.

What is the way forward?

  • The countries and healthcare systems are required to prepare for such future pandemics.
  • A one-health surveillance that can track outbreaks in both human and animal population.
  • Recently, the WHO has launched the International Pathogen Surveillance Network (IPSN).
  • Government should ensure sanitation and hygiene to reduce infection risks.
  • There is a need to keep the health systems ready for a health emergency including systems to quickly come up with diagnostics, drugs, or vaccines.
  • Similar Topics - WHO's Pandemic Treaty, India’s APPI and AHSSOH


  1. IE - Why the WHO Director-general has cautioned against the threat of emerging pathogens
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