WHO unveils 10-year strategy for genomic surveillance of pathogens

Before COVID-19, few countries did their own genomic surveillance of organisms that cause diseases, says WHO.

WHO unveils 10-year strategy for genomic surveillance of pathogens

The World Health Organization on Wednesday released a strategy to strengthen and scale up genomic surveillance worldwide to monitor organisms that cause diseases.

Genomic surveillance involves “constantly monitoring pathogens and analyzing their genetic similarities and differences … to monitor the evolution of infectious diseases agents, alert on the spread of pathogens, and develop countermeasures like vaccines,” according to a WHO statement.

It said only a few countries have in the past routinely done genomic surveillance, a technology considered complicated and expensive, but COVID-19 changed that.

“The complexities of genomics and the challenges of sustaining capacities in different settings, including workforce needs, means that most countries cannot develop these capabilities on their own,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“The global strategy helps keep our eyes on the horizon and provides a unifying framework for action. WHO looks forward to working with countries and partners in this important and highly dynamic field.”

According to data collected by WHO, 54% of countries worldwide had the capacity for genomic surveillance as of March last year.

By January 2022, due to significant investments made during the COVID-19 pandemic, the number had increased to 68%.

“Even greater gains were made in the public sharing of sequence data: in January 2022, 43% more countries published their sequence data compared to a year before,” read the statement.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that health systems need genomic surveillance so that risks are rapidly detected and addressed. This technology has been critical in this response, from the identification of a novel coronavirus, to the development of the first diagnostic tests and vaccines, to the tracking and identification of new virus variants.”