WHO identifies 19 fungal 'priority pathogens'

For the first time, the World Health Organization released a list of fungal "priority pathogens" that have emerged as significant public health threats. The list can be found here.

These fungi have been identified because of their "ability to cause severe invasive infections and their growing resistance to antifungal drugs."

Though the impact of fungal diseases has been scarce, the issue has become more prominent as a result of invasive fungal infections being found in COVID-19 patients. 

According to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, WHO officials also say emerging evidence suggests climate change and increased global travel have increased the effects of fungal diseases. The population most at risk from these infections, including cancer patients and organ transplant recipients, is growing. 

The WHO is worried experts will be unable to detect and respond to the growing problem because of the lack of resources devoted to fungal infections. 

"We want this report to catalyze research and development on new antifungals and new diagnostics on fungal disease," Haileyesus Getahun, MD, PhD, director of AMR Global Coordination at the WHO, said in a press briefing

He added that the list will help direct research efforts and public and private investment toward these 19 pathogens. 

The list is divided into three categories: critical, high and medium priority. For each category, antifungal resistance was the most important criteria, followed by annual incidence, morbidity and mortality. 

The WHO also highlights that resistant fungal pathogens have partly emerged as a global public health threat because of the use of antifungals in agriculture. The use of antifungals has created increases in antifungal-resistant infections. 

Hatim Sati, PhD, technical officer with the WHO's AMR Division, said COVID-19 taught them that you should do something early on to inform the public health response. 

"We don't need to wait until things are catastrophic to act," he said. 

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