Scientists in January 2017 named three relatively-known diseases that can be the next global health emergency in near future. These three diseases are Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV), Lassa fever and Nipah virus.
These three diseases were kept at the top of the list of 10 priority diseases that was identified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as potentially causing the next major outbreak.
Steps to tackle these diseases
To deal with the outbreak of these three diseases, MERS, Lassa fever and Nipah virus, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) has aimed to develop two experimental vaccines ready within five years. Usually, new vaccines are developed in about a decade and the process takes the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars. Detail of finances for developing vaccines for these three diseases
a) To speed up vaccine development procedure for MERS, Lassa fever and Nipah virus, a coalition of government and charities have committed to provide a fund of USD 460 million.
b) To deal with the problem, scientists are asking funders at the World Economic Forum Davos for another USD 500 million.
Reason for being serious to deal with the outbreak of these diseases
The decision to come up with vaccines to deal with the outbreak of these diseases was taken in the light of outbreaks of diseases like Zika virus in Latin America, Ebola in West Africa in 2014. Outbreaks of these diseases exposed the fact that how unprepared the world is to handle new outbreaks.
During the outbreaks of Zika and Ebola, the world had no vaccine or treatment for the same. Aftereffects of outbreak of Ebola and Zika virus
• About 11000 people died in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea due to Ebola.
• In 2015, Brain of more than 1000 children was damaged in Brazil due to the outbreak of Zika virus.
It is the virus that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). It is a coronavirus, part of the same family of viruses that causes the common cold and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). MERS is categorised as a zoonatic disease, that is, it passes into to human from animals.
MERS-CoV can spread from person to person, usually through close contact.
Major source of the disease: It is believed that Camels are the major source of the disease. It is caused due to activities like drinking raw camel milk or urine, eating undercooked camel meat and raising camels.
The virus that causes Lassa fever belongs to the Arenaviridae family. Lassa fever is also known as Lassa haemorrhagic fever (LHF). Lassa fever is a haemorrhagic illness and it occurs between one and three weeks after infection.
Source for the disease: Similar to MERS-CoV, Lassa fever is also a zoonatic disease and natural host of this virus is rodent Mastomys natalensis, otherwise known as the Natal multimammate mouse or rat.
It spreads among human after a person comes into contact with an item that is contaminated with the urine or faeces of rodent’s like by handling objects, eating or through open wounds. It can also be inhaled.
Lassa virus can pass from person to person via bodily fluids, and can spread in healthcare settings if suitable precautions are not taken.
Nipah virus (NiV)
This virus belongs to the Paramyxoviridae family of viruses, genus Henipavirus, alongside Hendra virus. Similar to Lassa virus and MERS-CoV, Nipah is also a zoonotic disease.
Source for the disease: The natural hosts for Nipah virus are fruit bats of the genus Pteropus. Fruit bats are also known as flying foxes.
Nipah virus can be spread to people from infected bats, infected pigs or infected people.
Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI)
CEPI is a new alliance (public-private coalition) to finance and coordinate the development of new vaccines to prevent and contain infectious disease epidemics. It aims to derail epidemics by speeding development of vaccines.
Apart from MERS, Lassa fever and Nipah virus, other diseases that is targeted in CEPI’s plan includes Marburg fever, SARS, Rift Valley fever, chikungunya, and others.
CEPI is being funded by the World Economic Forum, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, the government of Norway and the Dept of Biotechnology and Union Ministry of Science and Technology.