A panel of healthcare experts debates ‘disease X’ in Davos, even though it doesn’t exist. Why do they do it?

A series of publications about a supposedly deadly pathogen, called diseasebegan to circulate on social media, presenting it as a real threat being discussed at the 2024 annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

This is false: the disease It’s not real.

This was the name given to a hypothetical pathogen used as an example to help plan for future health crises. The name was coined by the World Health Organization in 2018. And global healthcare experts spoke this week on a forum panel called “Preparing for Disease X.”

In the days leading up to Wednesday’s panel on the topic, social media users began sharing a variety of posts that misrepresented the alleged disease and they presented it as something real and imminent.

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Disease is the mysterious contagion that the World Economic Forum is meeting about !” reads an Instagram post that had received more than 2,000 likes as of Thursday. “Apparently ‘it could have 20 times more fatalities than COVID.’ Remember… they always tell us what is coming,” the text adds.

But the disease does not exist. The WHO introduced the concept as part of its 2018 list of diseases that pose the greatest risk to public health. Information helps guide global research and development in areas such as vaccines, tests and treatments.

‘Disease X’ represents a hypothetical pathogen that could one day cause an epidemic or pandemic.Fabrice Coffrini / AFP via Getty Images

The disease represents a hypothetical pathogen that could one day cause an epidemic or pandemicaccording to a 2022 announcement about the WHO’s intention to update its list.

An initial version of the list was published in 2017, which did not include the diseaseand another update is planned for the first half of 2024. Actual diseases on the current list include COVID-19, Zika, Ebola and SARSamong other.

“Targeting priority pathogens and virus families for research and development of countermeasures is essential for a rapid and effective response to epidemics and pandemics,” explained Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, in the 2022 press release.

When asked for comment on false claims about the diseasethe WHO sent an updated copy of the statement, which was almost identical to the 2022 one.

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The Davos panel that discussed the disease Wednesday featured global healthcare leaders, including WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus; Nísia Trindade, Minister of Health of Brazil; and Nancy Brown, executive director of the American Heart Association.

Under the title “Preparation for disease”, participants discussed how to prepare health systems for future pandemics and other crises.

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