AUTHOR: Rick Stone
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently highlighted an unknown disease with the potential to cause an international public health emergency similar to the outbreaks of Zika Virus and Ebola.
Naming it ‘Disease X’, the pathogen could sweep through any region of the globe at any time. It might look like Lassa Fever, which killed more than 11,000 people in an epidemic in west Africa between 2013 and 2016. Or it might look completely different.
Because Disease X is no ordinary disease. No one actually knows where it will strike, what its symptoms will be, how quickly it will spread or the toll it will take. What we do know is that Disease X is coming and it will strike soon enough.
Scientific adviser to the WHO committee, John-Arne Rottingen explains:
"Disease X represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease […] History tells us that it is likely the next big outbreak will be something we have not seen before."
Every twelve months, the WHO releases a list of diseases that pose a serious risk of prompting such a crisis and for the first time, Disease X was added to the list.
Its inclusion is a not-so-tacit acknowledgement of what Donald Rumsfeld calls “unknown unknowns”. It’s also a prudent codification of the reality that when disaster strikes, it’s normally unexpected.
And while the WHO can’t predict where and when Disease X will strike, it can be certain that it will. Armed with this knowledge, the world's leading medical professionals can begin planning and practising for the unknown.
Does the WHO have a strong enough network to identify a genuine pandemic sized outbreak in its early stages? Can its specialists be activated quickly enough to contain the disease? Are infrastructure and organisational systems in place that would allow work to begin on finding a cure as quickly as possible?
It mightn’t have all the answers, but the WHO is not resting in that knowledge. It is surely reassuring to know that an influential international organisation is working to focus minds and spur research towards preparing for the inevitable outbreak of Disease X.
Is your organisation doing the same?
Much like the WHO, your organisation can’t know when, why or how disaster may strike. But you can plan for it, drill those plans and continue to work towards increased resilience.
Get in touch with Tigertail to learn more about how your organisation can better understand and prepare for your own version of Disease X.