Countries of the Americas Agree to Increase Genomic Sequencing to Detect Potentially Pandemic Pathogens

Genomic surveillance

Washington, DC, 28 September 2022 (PAHO) - Health authorities of the Region of the Americas agreed today to take a series of actions to expand and strengthen genomic surveillance of pathogens with pandemic and epidemic potential in the Region.

The Strategy on Regional Genomic Surveillance for Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness and Response, approved in the framework of the 30th Pan American Sanitary Conference of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), highlights the imperative need for the Region to equip itself with advanced tools for early detection and monitoring of viruses that pose a serious threat to health.

"Emerging and re-emerging pathogens with epidemic and pandemic potential present a significant risk in the Region," said Ciro Ugarte, Director of PAHO's Health Emergencies Department. "For that reason, it is essential to increase our ability to use genomic sequencing to quickly identify and characterize changes in viruses that can cause them to spread faster or cause more severe disease," he said.

Climate change, unplanned urbanization, the establishment of human settlements in jungle areas, and increased travel are additional risk factors for the emergence and spread of pathogens. As of May 2022, around 30% of all cases of COVID-19 and 44% of deaths worldwide occurred in the Americas, making the Region's vulnerability clear.

The new strategy will help countries and PAHO consolidate and expand the advances made in genomic surveillance to date. These include the COVID-19 Genomic Surveillance Regional Network (COVIGEN), created in March 2020, more than a year before variants of concern required a change of strategy to combat the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

The main impact of COVIGEN has been to strengthen and expand national SARS-CoV-2 genomic sequencing and surveillance capacities. Currently, more than 30 countries and territories in the Region actively participate as members of the network.

With a horizon of 2028, the lines of action of the strategy on genomic surveillance include:

  • Expanding and consolidating a regional genomic surveillance network of public health, animal health, and environmental health laboratories.
  • Strengthening the technical capacity of laboratories (infrastructure, equipment, supplies, and personnel) to perform genomic sequencing.
  • Strengthening reporting systems and ensuring timely reporting of genomic data.
  • Strengthening capacities and improving the use of genomic data for decision-making and public health actions.

PAHO will provide technical cooperation to its Member States for implementation of the strategy. It will also promote the consolidation of a regional genomic surveillance network for epidemic and pandemic preparedness and response beyond SARS-CoV-2, including influenza, arboviral diseases, and bacterial pathogens.