The Health Ministry (MOH) has ramped up its vigilance in anticipation of Disease X, assured Health director-general Datuk Dr Muhammad Radzi Abu Hassan.
The unknown pathogen, tagged by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a potential epidemic-causing agent, has Asia, particularly Malaysia, on its toes.
“Although Disease X wasn’t a primary topic at the recent 76th United Nations General Assembly, Malaysia is primed for its potential emergence,” said Hassan. He added, “Drawing from our past experiences with outbreaks like COVID-19 and SARS, we’re optimistic about managing any Disease X threats effectively.”
What is Disease X?
The World Health Organization introduced the term ‘Disease X’ in 2017, signifying an unidentified health threat with severe outbreak potential. Like how COVID-19 emerged unexpectedly in 2019, Disease X represents any such unforeseen, potentially deadly microbial threat. A vast array of viruses in wildlife, which could spill over to other species, including humans, is seen as a potential source.
Strengthened Health Systems and Public Communication
To ensure readiness, the Malaysian health system continually fortifies its capabilities. “Our commitment is to communicate transparently about any disease outbreaks,” Hassan emphasised.
He urged the public to stay informed and prepared. “Following health guidelines, adopting good health practices, and staying updated is crucial,” he added.
Overweight Concerns Persist
Addressing another pressing health concern, Hassan highlighted the persistent issue of overweight and obesity. “Over 50% of Malaysians faced this challenge in 2019,” he noted, referencing the Malaysian National Health and Morbidity Survey. Alarmingly, the prevalence among students aged 10 to 17 increased from 26.9% in 2012 to 30.4% in 2017.
Empowering Malaysians with Dietary Knowledge
On a positive note, Hassan introduced the Malaysian Diet Guide Series, aiming to educate the population on healthier eating habits. Moreover, the HER initiative, a branch of the Malaysian Diet Guide, focuses on addressing nutritional challenges among women aged 15 to 49.
Global Preparedness for Disease X
Malaysia isn’t the only country concerned. Scientists around the world are devising strategies against unexpected microbial threats like Disease X. They aim to accelerate the development of platform technologies that can adapt quickly to unforeseen outbreaks.
Since introducing the Disease X concept, there has been significant progress. Notably, authorities authorised the first COVID-19 vaccine within 326 days of releasing the Sars-CoV-2 genetic sequence.
Global entities like the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi) now support rapid-response vaccine platforms. They aim to develop new vaccines within 100 days of identifying a potentially pandemic-causing virus.
Despite the proactive measures, challenges remain. With the rise of anti-science movements, vaccine hesitancy has grown. Moreover, there’s a danger of governments downscaling funding for outbreak detection and preparedness as immediate threats diminish.
Therefore, countries like Malaysia are leading by example, staying alert and strengthening their defences in anticipation of potential health threats.
Photo credit: The Star