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WHO chief: World must prepare for deadlier outbreak than COVID-19

Reviewed by Lily Ramsey, LLM on May 23, 2023

The world should be prepared to respond to a disease outbreak of “even deadlier potential” than COVID-19, the head of the WHO said after the UN agency launched a global network to monitor disease threats.

In a speech at the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday (22 May), WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the end of COVID-19 as a global health emergency did not mean the global health threat was over.

“The threat of another variant emerging that causes new surges of disease and death remains,” he told the annual decision-making meeting of the WHO’s 194 member states.

“And the threat of another pathogen emerging with even deadlier potential remains.”

Kicking off the 76th meeting of the WHA on Saturday (20 May), the WHO launched the International Pathogen Surveillance Network (IPSN) to help identify and respond to emerging disease threats using genomics.

The genetic information from viruses, bacteria and other disease-causing organisms can help scientists recognize and track diseases and develop treatments and vaccines. It can show how infectious or deadly a particular strain is, and how it spreads.

The network aims to give every country access to pathogen genomic sequencing and analytics as part of its public health system, Tedros said at the launch.

The IPSN Secretariat, hosted by the WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence, will bring together genomics and data analysis experts from around the world, incorporating governments, philanthropic foundations, multilateral organizations, civil society, academia and the private sector.

Rajiv Shah, president of The Rockefeller Foundation, an IPSN funder, said global collaboration in pathogen genomic surveillance had been “critical” during the fight against COVID-19.

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