PANDEMICSDisease X: How to End Pandemics

Published 6 February 2023

A new book tracks how the world can stop future pandemics. It offers a perspective on the COVID-19 response and lays out a roadmap to prepare to beat the next Disease X. The book challenges us to understand continual and growing infectious disease threats, but also offers hope and looks ahead to a pandemic-free future.

An important new book on pandemic control, DISEASE X – The 100 Days Mission to End Pandemics, was just published in the U.K.. This narrative by Kate Kelland, Chief Scientific Writer at the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), draws on her access to key players and their experiences at the frontlines of pandemic planning and response and takes the reader inside global efforts to prevent future outbreaks from exploding into deadly crises.

Distilling insights from health security experts, examining epidemics and pandemics of the past and present, and analyzing what governments, societies and their people got right and wrong in the response to COVID-19 and other devastating disease outbreaks, Kelland explores why and how viruses—tiny as they are—can wreak enormous havoc on our way of life. But she also tells a story of hope, giving readers a glimpse of a future where the threat of pandemics has been neutralized by a prepared and collaborative world.

“As the threat of COVID subsides from public consciousness, there is a risk too that our memories of the terrible impacts of pandemics will also begin to fade,” said Dr. Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI. “But what we don’t want to do is take our eye off the ball. This book, DISEASE X, with its accessible storytelling and discussion of the decision-making challenges that leaders face when confronted with a new infectious disease, will help us not to forget, but instead to strive towards a post-pandemic era where we work together to stop something like COVID-19 from ever happening again.”

Kelland, who was formerly a global health and science correspondent for Reuters, said: “The book’s unique perspective, from both outside and inside some of the biggest pandemic prevention minds, will, I hope, give it a useful role in deepening understanding of how, as we emerge from COVID-19, it doesn’t have to be this way when we face the next ‘Disease X’.”

Disease X is the codename given by the World Health Organization to a pathogen currently unknown to science that could cause havoc to humankind.

Emerging infections are sending us multiple warnings that another Disease X is looming. We’ve had SARS in 2002, H5N1 bird flu in 2004, H1N1 ‘swine flu’ in 2009, MERS in 2012, Ebola in 2014, Zika in 2015 and now COVID-19. These events are not freak events, but are happening continually, and at an increasing cadence.

“Given that we know there are so many other viral disease Xs out there, that we know the extreme danger they pose, and that we now know—in part thanks to the dramatic scientific advances made during the Covid crisis—how we can contain and halt epidemics before they spiral out of control, there is truly no excuse to be unprepared again”, Kelland said.

As people around the world emerge from the COVID-19 crisis with an understandable desire to put pandemics to the back of their mind, Kelland counsels against complacency and advocates instead for preparedness: PREPARE to Be Scared, PREPARE to Move Fast, PREPARE to Share, PREPARE to Fail, she urges in DISEASE X. These features of speed, bravery, collaboration, agility and humility are factors Kelland identifies as crucial to tackling and containing future disease epidemics before they can wreck billions of lives and livelihoods, as COVID-19 has done.

Writing in the foreword of DISEASE X, Sir Tony Blair, former UK Prime Minister and Executive Chairman of The Institute for Global Change, cautions that: “The past few years have made it abundantly clear that we are living in an increasingly interconnected world where invisible viral threats are emerging more often, leaving us all more vulnerable. “Health security will never be achieved if we do not build the lessons of Covid- 19 into the way our governments and societies operate. Our governments need to demonstrate the same level of political will, ambition and international cooperation that leaders demonstrated in the wake of World War II.”