World health chief warns a pandemic that will kill millions 'could start in any country at any time'

  • Dr Tedros Adhanom is the director general of the World Health Organization
  • He claims the next outbreak will be ‘terrible’ on humans and the economy
  • Dr Tedros was speaking at the World Government Summit in Dubai this week

Stephen Matthews For Mailonline

Humanity is ‘vulnerable’ to a pandemic that could kill millions, the chief of the World Health Organization has warned.

Dr Tedros Adhanom, director general of the WHO, claims the next outbreak will have a ‘terrible toll’ on the population and economy.

Fears of a pandemic have mounted lately, following the worst flu outbreak in recent years that has rocked the US, Australia, France and the UK.

A plague outbreak in Madagascar last November also shook the medical community, and left them concerned it would spread across the world rapidly.

While the most recent pandemic, mosquito-borne Zika virus, struck 70 countries in 2016 and took concerned scientists by surprise. 

Speaking about the threat of another at the World Government Summit in Dubai earlier this week, Dr Tedros said: ‘This is not some future nightmare scenario.

‘A devastating epidemic could start in any country at any time and kill millions of people because we are still not prepared. The world remains vulnerable.’

He added: ‘We do not know where and when the next global pandemic will occur, but we know it will take a terrible toll both on human life and on the economy.’

Dr Tedros Adhanom, director general of the WHO, claims the next outbreak will take a 'terrible toll' on human life and the economy

Dr Tedros Adhanom, director general of the WHO, claims the next outbreak will take a ‘terrible toll’ on human life and the economy

Dr Tedros, from Ethiopia, became the first African to hold the chief post at the WHO when he was appointed in May 2017.

But he sparked controversy after appointing despot Robert Mugabe a ‘goodwill ambassador’ – despite life expectancy in Zimbabwe plummeting under him.

At the time, he credited Mugabe for prioritising universal health care. And this week he warned the absence of such a system is ‘the greatest threat to global health’.  

Dr Tedros also warns flu poses a danger, Futurism reports. The theory was echoed by experts at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month.

The claims came exactly 100 years after the 1918 Spanish flu that claimed 50 million lives and killed three times as many people as World War I.

A mutated strain is the most likely contender to wipe out millions, because it can join together with other strains to become deadlier.

Speaking at the World Government Summit in Dubai earlier this week, Dr Tedros said: 'This is not some future nightmare scenario (pictured in September)

Speaking at the World Government Summit in Dubai earlier this week, Dr Tedros said: 'This is not some future nightmare scenario (pictured in September)

Speaking at the World Government Summit in Dubai earlier this week, Dr Tedros said: ‘This is not some future nightmare scenario (pictured in September)

This process is what sparked the Swine flu pandemic of 2009 – which killed nearly 300,000 people across the world after striking around 60 countries.

Dr Sylvie Briand, a specialist in infectious diseases at the World Health Organisation, said at the summit: ‘We know that it is coming, but we have no way of stopping it.

‘Humanity is more vulnerable in the face of epidemics because we are much more connected and we travel around much more quickly than before.’  

A devastating epidemic could start in any country at any time and kill millions of people because we are still not prepared. The world remains vulnerable
Dr Tedros Adhanom, director general of the World Health Organization

Dr Tedros’ comments follow the plague outbreak in Madagascar – the most recent epidemic to receive international aid attention amid fears it would spread.

More than 200 people were killed during the outbreak that ravaged the island over the winter, which prompted 10 nearby African countries to be placed on high alert.

The most recent pandemic – defined as the worldwide spread of a new disease – was the mosquito-borne Zika virus that rocked South America in 2016.

The infection, which struck 70 countries, can cause microcephaly, or infants born with abnormally small heads. It took scientists by surprise. 

And Ebola, a hemorrhagic fever, killed 11,000 in West Africa after it decimated the region between 2014 and 2015. It also reached the US.

The international response to the outbreak drew criticism for moving too slowly, and scientists warned it spread so quickly because of the ease of global travel. 

WHAT IS EBOLA AND HOW DEADLY WAS IT? THE PANDEMIC OF 2014-15 THAT DECIMATED WEST AFRICA

Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever, killed at least 11,000 across the world after it decimated West Africa and spread rapidly over the space of two years.

The pandemic was officially declared over back in January 2016, when Liberia was announced to be Ebola-free by the WHO.

The country, rocked by back-to-back civil wars that ended in 2003, was hit the hardest by the fever, with 40 per cent of the deaths having occurred there.

Sierra Leone reported the highest number of Ebola cases, with nearly of all those infected having been residents of the nation.

Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever, killed at least 11,000 across the world after it decimated West Africa and spread rapidly over the space of two years

Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever, killed at least 11,000 across the world after it decimated West Africa and spread rapidly over the space of two years

Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever, killed at least 11,000 across the world after it decimated West Africa and spread rapidly over the space of two years

WHERE DID IT BEGIN? 

An analysis, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found the outbreak began in Guinea – which neighbours Liberia and Sierra Leone.

A team of international researchers were able to trace the pandemic back to a two-year-old boy in Meliandou – about 400 miles (650km) from the capital, Conakry.

Emile Ouamouno, known more commonly as Patient Zero, may have contracted the deadly virus by playing with bats in a hollow tree, a study suggested.

HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE STRUCK DOWN? 

WHICH COUNTRIES WERE STRUCK DOWN BY EBOLA DURING THE 2014-16 PANDEMIC? (CDC figures)
COUNTRY                                                CASES  DEATHS DEATH RATE (%) 
GUINEA 3,814 2,544 66.7%
SIERRA LEONE  14,124  3,956  28.0% 
LIBERIA  10,678  4,810  45.0% 
NIGERIA  20  40.0% 
SENEGAL  N/A 
SPAIN  N/A 
US  25.0% 
MALI  75.0%
UK  N/A
ITALY  N/A 

Figures show nearly 29,000 people were infected from Ebola – meaning the virus killed around 40 per cent of those it struck.

Cases and deaths were also reported in Nigeria, Mali and the US – but on a much smaller scale, with 15 fatalities between the three nations.

Health officials in Guinea reported a mysterious bug in the south-eastern regions of the country before the WHO confirmed it was Ebola. 

Ebola was first identified by scientists in 1976, but the most recent outbreak dwarfed all other ones recorded in history, figures show.

HOW DID HUMANS CONTRACT THE VIRUS? 

Scientists believe Ebola is most often passed to humans by fruit bats, but antelope, porcupines, gorillas and chimpanzees could also be to blame.

It can be transmitted between humans through blood, secretions and other bodily fluids of people – and surfaces – that have been infected.

IS THERE A TREATMENT? 

The WHO warns that there is ‘no proven treatment’ for Ebola – but dozens of drugs and jabs are being tested in case of a similarly devastating outbreak.

Hope exists though, after an experimental vaccine, called rVSV-ZEBOV, protected nearly 6,000 people. The results were published in The Lancet journal. 

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