World leaders are set to meet this week to talk out concerns about the potential for a future pandemic that could cause 20 times more fatalities than Covid.

A panel led by World Health Organization chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Gehreyesus will debate ‘novel efforts needed to prepare healthcare systems for the multiple challenges ahead’ at a session called ‘Preparing for Disease X’ at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Disease X represents a hypothetical, currently unknown pathogen. It was added to the WHO’s list of nine priority diseases in 2018.

In 2018, the WHO identified nine priority diseases (listed) that pose the biggest risk to public health. They were deemed to be most risky due to a lack of treatments or their ability to cause a pandemic

In 2018, the WHO identified nine priority diseases (listed) that pose the biggest risk to public health. They were deemed to be most risky due to a lack of treatments or their ability to cause a pandemic

Disease X represents a hypothetical, currently unknown pathogen. It was added to the WHO's list of nine priority diseases in 2018

Disease X represents a hypothetical, currently unknown pathogen. It was added to the WHO’s list of nine priority diseases in 2018

Dr Gehreyesus will be joined on Wednesday by Michel Demaré, chair of the board of pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, Brazilian health minister Nisia Trindade Lima, Royal Philips CEO Roy Jakobs, Indian hospital chain Apollo’s executive vice-chairperson Preetha Reddy and Shyam Bishen, head of the center for health and healthcare and member of the World Economic Forum’s executive committee.

In its list of priority diseases, the WHO said: ‘Disease X represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease.’

The UN agency ranks Disease X alongside Covid-19, Ebola, Zika virus, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars).

Experts do not yet know what type of virus will trigger the next pandemic, but scientists have warned for decades that bird flu is the most likely contender.

Researchers say this is because of the threat of recombination — with high levels of human flu raising the risk of a human becoming co-infected with avian flu as well.

Others have long speculated Disease X would more generally come from zoonotic transmission — an animal virus or bacteria that jumps to humans. 

Some have even warned Disease X could be sparked by a biological mutation, an accident or a terror attack that catches the world by surprise and spreads fast. 

DailyMail.com previously spoke to three virus experts who agreed a respiratory virus — spread via droplets from coughs and sneezes — was most likely to trigger the next fast-spreading disease that causes a global shutdown.

In a session called 'Preparing for Disease X' at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a panel led by World Health Organization chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Gehreyesus (pictured right) will debate 'novel efforts needed to prepare healthcare systems for the multiple challenges ahead

In a session called ‘Preparing for Disease X’ at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a panel led by World Health Organization chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Gehreyesus (pictured right) will debate ‘novel efforts needed to prepare healthcare systems for the multiple challenges ahead

DailyMail.com previously spoke to three virus experts who agreed a respiratory virus was most likely to trigger the next fast-spreading disease that causes a global shutdown

DailyMail.com previously spoke to three virus experts who agreed a respiratory virus was most likely to trigger the next fast-spreading disease that causes a global shutdown

They said the infamous Disease X would most likely appear after a farm worker is infected with an animal-borne disease that mutates, but said they could not rule out the disaster would be sparked by a lab leak, a main theory as to the origin of the Covid pandemic.

It was also possible, they warned, for the outbreak to be even worse than the Covid pandemic, pointing to the 1918 influenza outbreak, which killed an estimated 50 million people globally, compared to the seven million deaths from Covid.

Top culprits for the next pandemic, the experts speculated, were another coronavirus and avian influenza — a virus that infects birds but could possibly jump to humans. 

This disease has led to the slaughter of five million birds in the US this year in an attempt to prevent an outbreak. 

The experts, though, could not rule out other diseases like Ebola and outbreaks from insect-borne diseases like malaria and yellow fever.

Some of the most dangerous viruses — such as smallpox, measles and HIV — originated in animals and later became highly transmissible between humans.

So far, scientists are aware of 25 virus families, each of them comprising hundreds or thousands of different viruses, any of which could evolve to cause a pandemic.

Worse still, they estimate there could be more than one million undiscovered viruses that may be able to jump from one species to another, mutate dramatically and kill millions of human beings.

There was a silver lining, however. They pointed to rapid advances in vaccine technology and antivirals as a sign the pharmaceutical industry would be able to rapidly roll out treatments against a pandemic disease when the next arises.

Around the world, countries have pledged a total of $1.5billion (£1.15billion) to help scientists prepare for Disease X. 

The UK government has pledged £160million ($210million), alongside pledges from the US, Japan, Germany, Australia, and Norway.

The Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust have also invested in research to tackle Disease X.

News of the World Economic Forum meeting sparked a heated debate on social media last week, with ring-wing accounts claiming that preparation for Disease X could result in shutdown measures such as more lockdowns.

During the Trump administration, Monica Crowley, a former Fox News contributor and assistant secretary for public affairs to the Treasury Department, said that a new disease would allow world leaders to enact lockdowns, ‘restrict free speech and destroy more freedoms.’

But Dr Stuart Ray, vice chair of medicine for data integrity and analytics at Johns Hopkins’ Department of Medicine, told Fortune it would be ‘irresponsible’ for world leaders not to meet at the forum.

He said: ‘There have been multiple such events in recorded history, and the recent coronavirus pandemic taught us that rapid response can save millions of lives.

‘Coordination of public health response is not conspiracy; it’s simply responsible planning.’

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