WHO and partners are launching a global network to help protect people from infectious disease threats through the power of pathogen genomics. The International Pathogen Surveillance Network (IPSN) will provide a platform to connect countries and regions, improving systems for collecting and analyzing samples, using these data to drive public health decision-making, and sharing that information more broadly.

Pathogen genomics analyzes the genetic code of viruses, bacteria and other disease-causing organisms to understand how infectious they are, how deadly they are, and how they spread. With this information, scientists and public health officials can identify and track diseases to prevent and respond to outbreaks as part of a broader disease surveillance system, and to develop treatments and vaccines.

The IPSN, with a Secretariat hosted by the WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence, brings together experts worldwide at the cutting-edge of genomics and data analytics, from governments, philanthropic foundations, multilateral organizations, civil society, academia and the private sector. All share a common goal: to detect and respond to disease threats before they become epidemics and pandemics, and to optimize routine disease surveillance.

The goal of this new network is ambitious, but it can also play a vital role in health security: to give every country access to pathogen genomic sequencing and analytics as part of its public health system,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.  “As was so clearly demonstrated to us during the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is stronger when it stands together to fight shared health threats.”

COVID-19 highlighted the critical role pathogen genomics plays in responding to pandemic threats. Without the rapid sequencing of the SARS-COV-2 genome, vaccines would not have been as effective, or have been made available so quickly. New, more transmissible variants of the virus would not have been as quickly identified. Genomics lies at the heart of effective epidemic and pandemic preparedness and response, as well as part of the ongoing surveillance of a vast range of diseases, from foodborne diseases and influenza to tuberculosis and HIV. Its use in monitoring the spread of HIV drug resistance, for example, has led to antiretroviral regimes that have saved countless lives.

“Global collaboration in pathogen genomic surveillance has been critical as the world fights COVID-19 together,” said Dr Rajiv J. Shah, President of The Rockefeller Foundation. “IPSN builds upon this experience by creating a strong platform for partners across sectors and borders to share knowledge, tools, and practices to ensure that pandemic prevention and response is innovative and robust in the future.”

Despite recent scale-up in genomics capacity in countries as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many still lack effective systems for collecting and analyzing samples or using those data to drive public health decision-making. There is not enough sharing of data, practices, and innovations to build a robust global health surveillance architecture. Budgets that soared during the pandemic, allowing a rapid build-up of capabilities, are now being slashed, even in the wealthiest countries.

“Argentina is deeply invested in building our own country capacity in pathogen genomics and the capacity of other countries,” said Josefina Campos, Director of the National Genomics and Bioinformatics Center at ANLIS Malbrán, Argentina. “Diseases do not respect borders: a disease threat in one country is also a threat to others. We look forward to collaborating with IPSN members to achieve our common goal of preventing illness and saving lives.”

The IPSN will tackle these challenges through a global network, connecting geographies and disease-specific networks, to build a collaborative system to better detect, prevent and respond to disease threats. Members will work together in dedicated groups focusing on specific challenges, supported by funding through the IPSN to scale-up ideas and projects in pathogen genomics. By connecting countries, regions, and wider stakeholders, the IPSN will help to increase critical capacity, amplify regional and country-level voices, and strengthen their priorities.

About the IPSN

The IPSN is a new global network of pathogen genomic actors, hosted by the WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence, to accelerate progress on the deployment of pathogen genomics and improve public health decision-making. The IPSN envisions a world where every country has equitable access to sustained capacity for genomic sequencing and analytics as part of its public health surveillance system. It sets out to create a mutually supportive global network of genomic surveillance actors that amplifies and accelerates the work of its members to improve access and equity.

The IPSN consists of three main operational bodies that bring together different sets of stakeholders, supported by a Secretariat at the WHO Pandemic Hub. Partners collaborate in Communities of Practice (COPs) to solve common challenges, aiming to increase harmonization and innovation in pathogen genomics. In the Country Scale-Up Accelerator (CSUA), stakeholders work together to align efforts and enable South-South exchange to scale-up country capacity building. The COP and CSUA bring together organizations from across sectors, income levels, and geographies, with a commitment to international cooperation and equity, and deep expertise in either genomics or country scale-up of surveillance systems. The third body is the Funders Forum to coordinate philanthropic, multi-lateral and governmental donors around increased political attention and financing efficiency of pathogen genomic surveillance.  The Funders Forum also catalyses additional grant funding for projects of IPSN members.

The establishment of the IPSN has been supported by German government funding to the WHO Pandemic Hub. 

About the WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence

Forming part of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, the WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence (the WHO Pandemic Hub), facilitates a global collaboration of partners from multiple sectors that supports countries and stakeholders to address future pandemic and epidemic risks with better access to data, better analytical capacities, and better tools and insights for decision-making. With support from the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany, the WHO Pandemic Hub was established in September 2021 in Berlin, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which demonstrated weaknesses around the world in how countries detect, monitor and manage public health threats.

The WHO Pandemic Hub works closely with Member States and WHO regional and country offices to strengthen their data-sharing capacities and enable partners from around the world to collaborate and co-create tools to gather and analyse data for early warning surveillance. With a presence in more than 150 countries, six regional offices, and its Geneva headquarters, WHO’s reach gives us the ability to treat pandemic, epidemic and public health risks with equal urgency and diligence around the globe.

By linking local, regional, and global initiatives, the WHO Pandemic Hub fosters a collaborative environment for innovators, scientists and experts from across a wide spectrum of disciplines, allowing us to leverage and share cutting-edge technology and anchoring our work in the needs of stakeholders around the world.

Building on expertise across disciplines, sectors, and regions, it will leverage WHO’s convening power to foster global solutions built on an architecture of global collaboration and trust.

Source: WHO

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