Pandemic Disease

24 Feb 2018

The World Health Organisation (WHO) identifies fourteen major pandemic disease threats to the global population: avian influenza, cholera, emerging diseases (e.g. nodding disease), Hendra virus, pandemic influenza, leptospirosis, meningitis, Nipah virus, plague, Rift Valley fever, SARS, smallpox, tularaemia, haemorrhagic fevers (like the Ebola and Marburg viruses), hepatitis and yellow fever. 

To these it adds the worldwide emergence of a new wave of drug-resistant organisms, such as tuberculosis, golden staph, streptococcus, salmonella, E.coli and malaria, which pose a rising hazard to human health not only from the diseases they cause that resist antibiotic treatment - but also from the accompanying loss of antibiotic protection for surgical procedures, cancer therapies etc.

WHO estimates that a quarter of world deaths are currently due to infectious disease. While there is presently no known pathogen capable of extinguishing the entire human population, pandemic disease is expected to exacerbate other existential risks including famines, water shortages, climate change, conflicts and refugee crises and augmenting the toll caused by these.

Also, new pathogens are constantly arising as a result of human interactions with the environment (such as land clearing eg hantaviruses, Ebola) and other animals (eg HIV, Nipah, MERS, SARS, Avian influenza).  The need for worldwide early warning  systems is paramount.

A further danger is the ongoing creation of new and more deadly strains of disease in scientific laboratories by researchers either seeking to investigate novel ways to prevent disease, or else trying to invent new biowarfare weapons. History shows the risk of these escaping, even from very secure facilities,is high.

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