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New US Government Agency Set Up To Tackle "Disease X" Threat

As we saw with COVID-19, the world wasn't prepared for a global pandemic.


Tom Hale


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist

Mortuary workers in protective suits transport a coffin of a COVID-19 victim in Gilly, Belgium on Apri. 9, 2020.

Mortuary workers in protective suits transport the coffin of a COVID-19 victim in Gilly, Belgium on April 9, 2020.

Image credit: Alexandros Michailidis/

The US has created a new government agency to focus on global health and pandemic prevention. As part of its wide range of responsibilities, it will be tasked with preparing the country for "disease X", the hypothetical unknown infection that has the potential to spread into a new pandemic. The US response to HIV/AIDS will also be a major priority for the new bureau.

The US State Department officially announced the new Bureau of Global Heath Security and Diplomacy last week. Launched by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the bureau's first leader is renowned virologist Dr John Nkengasong, who is currently serving as the Global AIDS Coordinator in the Biden administration. 


The new bureau is, in part, a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which highlighted how ill-prepared the world was for an international disease outbreak. 

Numerous pieces of research have starkly highlighted how the conditions of the 21st-century world are creating a perfect storm for future pandemics to break out. Next time around – and, unfortunately, there will be a next time – the US aims to be ahead of the game with the help of this bureau.

“COVID taught us that in the world, trillions of dollars were lost because of the COVID-19 pandemic [and] millions of lives — 20 million people died in three years. And the disruption that it created in supply chain management was just incredible,” Dr Nkengasong said in an interview with NPR

“So, we have to really step back and see what are some of the systems and institutions that we need to strengthen [pandemic response] at the global level, the regional level and the national level. We have to beef up our workforce development. We have to strengthen [disease] surveillance systems. We have to strengthen supply chain management systems and decentralize production of health security commodities,” Nkengasong explained.


The new bureau will also be tackling the US response to the ongoing global HIV/AIDS crisis. The President's Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), launched by George W. Bush in 2003, is set to expire at the end of September 2023 and it’s currently uncertain whether it will be reissued, despite its strong success.

As Associated Press reports, PEPFAR will now fall under the remit of the new bureau, which hopes to continue its legacy.

“Our goal is to bring HIV/AIDS to an end by the year 2030 as a public health threat. And it is very feasible,” Nkengasong told PBS.

“This is not the time for us to relent on our leadership that the world has recognized, praised, and it reflects our values. This is not the time for us to step back from those remarkable gains, which are very fragile. So I remain optimistic that the bipartisanship that characterized PEPFAR and has done so for 20 years will prevail, and PEPFAR will continue to be reauthorized for five years,” he continued.


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