WHO launches 10-year strategy to scale up global genomic surveillance of pathogens

News article
6 April 2022
The Global Genomic Surveillance Strategy - working together to strengthen and scale genomic surveillance for quality, timely and appropriate public health actions in local to global health systems

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) has released a strategy to strengthen genomic surveillance of pathogens around the world. The Global genomic surveillance strategy for pathogens with pandemic and epidemic potential, 2022–2032 aims to scale up global surveillance systems, to integrate genomic data into disease control efforts and enable timely and appropriate public health actions.

Genomic surveillance is the process of continuously monitoring pathogens by sequencing their genomes. By analysing genetic variation over time and across geographic areas, epidemiologists can track the evolution of pathogens and inform public health authorities in order to implement effective countermeasures. MalariaGEN has long advocated the power of genomic surveillance as a tool to track the evolution and spread of malaria, particularly for parasite drug resistance, working closely with our partners and collectively building relationships and knowledge transfer with National Malaria Control Programmes, to answer crucial questions about the mechanisms of drug resistance. More recently we have been working with our long-term partners in endemic countries to develop in-country sequencing capacities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further showcased the power of genomic surveillance as a public health tool by tracking the spread of novel variants of SARS-CoV-2. However, the pandemic also highlighted huge gaps in access to sequencing technologies and capacity of surveillance systems around the world. In this global surveillance strategy, WHO recognises the need to improve access to tools and to enhance partnerships and data sharing. Building on existing genomic surveillance systems, the strategy aims to support monitoring of pathogens at the country, regional and global level, to help public health systems recognise and address disease threats more quickly. WHO has defined five objectives through which the goal will be achieved over the next ten years:

  1. Improve access to tools for better geographic representation
  2. Strengthen the workforce to deliver at speed, scale and quality
  3. Enhance data sharing and utility for streamlined local to global public health decision-making and action
  4. Maximise connectivity for timely value-add in the broader surveillance architecture
  5. Maintain a readiness posture for emergencies

A key feature of the global genomic surveillance strategy is to target capability inequity. MalariaGEN has been striving to address this since its conception through its highly collaborative network, by providing extensive training and support in data management, equitable data sharing and amplicon sequencing. Follow the links to learn more about:

Read the full Strategy online here: https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240046979