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  • Context (DTE): WHO has cautioned that COVID-19, the first of ‘Disease X, may recur, emphasizing the potential for future global health threats.
  • A key way to tackle this is through the pandemic agreement.

Disease X

  • It represents an unknown disease that could cause a potential epidemic or pandemic, with an unprecedented impact on health infrastructure and mortality.
  • It is most likely to be a zoonotic disease with a ribonucleic acid (RNA) virus, having a far worse effect on mortality rates than the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pandemic Agreement

  • It is being negotiated by WHO countries.
  • Deadline: The 77th World Health Assembly, which is to be held in May 2024.
  • It aims to improve prevention, preparedness, and response to future pandemics at a global level.
  • Goals
    • Ensure sustained and long-term political commitment.
    • Define clear processes and tasks.
    • Ensure long-term public- and private-sector support at all levels.
    • Promote an ‘all-of-government’ and ‘all-of-society’ approach.

Benefits

Six generic icons for each potential benefit.

Initiatives by WHO to Prepare for a Future Pandemic

Financial Intermediary Fund for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (PPR)

  • It aims to cover early warning surveillance systems for zoonotic diseases, laboratories, and emergency communication.
  • Hosted by the World Bank and with technical support from the WHO.
  • The fund will provide additional, long-term financing to strengthen PPR capabilities in low- and middle-income countries.

mRNA technology transfer hub

  • The objective is to build capacity in low and middle income countries to produce mRNA vaccines.
  • The hub is located at Afrigen, Cape Town, South Africa.

WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence

  • It was established in Berlin, Germany.
  • Aim to strengthen pandemic and epidemic intelligence through better data and better analytics.
  • The Epidemic Intelligence from Open Sources (EIOS) is hosted within the new WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence.

WHO BioHub

  • It will enable WHO Member States to share biological materials with and via the BioHub under pre-agreed conditions. This will ensure timeliness and predictability in response activities.
  • Currently, most pathogen sharing is done bilaterally between countries.

Understanding the science behind mRNA technology

  • All living organisms (animals, plants, and bacteria) possess both DNA and RNA. An exception to this rule is seen in viruses, which contain either DNA or RNA, not both.
  • DNA holds instructions on how to make proteins, but it never leaves the cell’s nucleus.
  • It is RNA, specifically messenger RNA (mRNA), that provides these instructions to the ribosomes. Ribosomes are the sites where proteins are synthesised.
    • The nucleus creates RNA (mRNA), a copy of DNA’s instructions.
    • mRNA then travels to the ribosomes, taking the information.
  • The ribosome reads mRNA’s sequence & translates it into a string of amino acids, forming proteins.

mRNA

  • mRNA, or messenger RNA, is a type of RNA that acts as a messenger for building proteins.
  • While various types of RNA contribute to protein synthesis, mRNA specifically carries the recipe for a protein.
  • Scientists use this function of mRNA to instruct cells to produce specific viral proteins.

mRNA vaccines

  • Scientists identify a specific protein that is crucial for infection. In the case of COVID-19, this is often the spike protein.
  • The identified protein sequence will be used to create the mRNA instructions.
  • In the laboratory, a synthetic mRNA is created and encapsulated within lipid nanoparticles. These lipid nanoparticles protect the mRNA and help it enter cells.
  • The combination of synthetic mRNA and lipid nanoparticles forms the basis of the mRNA vaccine.
  • Once the mRNA vaccine is administered, the lipid nanoparticles deliver the mRNA into the cells of the vaccinated individual.
  • Cells in the muscle take up the mRNA, recognising it as genetic instructions.
  • The ribosomes read the mRNA and follow the instructions to produce the viral protein (e.g., the spike protein).
  • The immune system recognises the synthesised viral protein as foreign and mounts an immune response, producing antibodies and activating immune cells.

    A diagram of a virus Description automatically generated

  • mRNA technology is versatile and adaptable, holding promise not only for vaccines but also for treating diseases such as cancer and genetic disorders
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