An outbreak of the Nipah virus in China, with a fatality rate of up to 75 per cent, could potentially be the next big pandemic risk with giant pharmaceutical companies unprepared while currently focusing COVID-19, according to a report by the Access to Medicine Foundation.
“Nipah virus is another emerging infectious disease that causes great concern. Nipah could blow any moment. The next pandemic could be a drug-resistant infection,” The Guardian quoted Jayasree K Iyer, executive director of the Netherlands-based Access to Medicine Foundation, as saying.
The virus is rare and spread by fruit bats, which can cause flu-like symptoms and brain damage. It can cause encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, according to the World Health Organization. The usual treatment is supportive care.
An outbreak of the Nipah virus in India's southern state Kerala in 2018 claimed 17 lives. At the time, countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates temporarily banned frozen and processed fruit and vegetable imports from Kerala as a result of the outbreak there.
At the time, health officials believed that Nipah outbreaks in Bangladesh and India were perhaps associated with the drinking of date palm juice.
The 2021 Access to Medicine Index report takes a look at the actions of 20 of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies to make medicines, vaccines and diagnostics more accessible. It found that research and development for COVID-19 had increased in the past year but that other pandemic risks have so far gone unaddressed.
“This Index was prepared during the worst public health crisis in a century – which has revealed the chronic inequalities of access to medicine like never before. Yet, after years of encouraging access planning, we are now seeing a strategic shift in this direction. This could radically change how fast access to new products is achieved – if company leadership is determined to ensure people living in low- and middle-income countries are not last in line,” the report quoted Iyer as saying.