Director-General of the WHO Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends an ACANU briefing in Geneva
WHO launches global pathogen surveillance network. Reuters

On May 20, the World Health Organization launched a special network to track disease-causing microbes like viruses, bacteria, etc, collectively known as pathogens in the medical world. The new network called the International Pathogen Surveillance Network or IPSN was launched at an event that happened between 17:00-19:30 hrs (CET).

It was done as part of the week-long World Health Assembly happening in Geneva at the moment.

What is it?

This is a custom-made platform designed to showcase the genomics details of pathogens, that is infectious disease-causing agents like bacteria, viruses, protozoa etc. This global network will have all the essential data regarding various pathogens including their sample collection, origin, screening and other developments.

Through this platform information from various regions and countries around the world would be made available, with the help of which the experts can decide how to improve the sample collection procedure and analyse the samples better. Once data about the pathogen is made available on the network a proper public healthcare policy can be chalked out by the organisation.

How does it work?

Such a system like this will work by analysing the genomics data of the pathogens like viruses, bacteria or other infectious agents. They would analyse the genetic code of the pathogens isolated from the sample which provides scientists with crucial information like their disease-causing capacity. By using the genomics data one can determine, how the pathogen spread through the world, infecting one person after another and how deadly they are.

Powered by this information healthcare policymakers and officials can track down the disease and control the outbreaks, responding to them in a more time-bound and faster way. It also helps in identifying new outbreaks of diseases quickly and helps to prevent them.

A bigger picture of this lies in the development of medicines, vaccines and other treatment procedures.

The goals of the network

The International Pathogen Surveillance Network or IPSN would be formed by experts from genomics and data analytics along with professionals from academia, philanthropic organisations, governments, civil society and the private sector. It would be hosted under the Pandemic and Epidemic wing of the World Health Organization.

The primary objective of this network will be to prevent and monitor future pandemics like COVID-19. Its goals include:

  1. To detect the disease threat.
  2. Respond to the disease threat quickly before it spirals into epidemics or pandemics.
  3. Set up the best routine for the surveillance of the disease.

Why is it needed?

As underlined by the WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus that the world is better equipped to handle health threats if we stand together. The role of pathogen genomics has become more crucial now as the world is more prone to pandemics.

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.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General
Global collaboration in pathogen genomic surveillance has been critical as the world fights COVID-19 together.
Dr Rajiv J. Shah, President of The Rockefeller Foundation

This is particularly crucial since the genomics study infrastructure isn't the same in every country. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has helped in developing the system yet many lack the efficiency in collecting samples and analysing. Also, data sharing isn't smooth and swift all the time, making it difficult in public healthcare decision-making. With the pandemic over, the budget for such rapid action has slowed. Hence, the necessity of such a global surveillance network.

How does it help?

The importance of pathogen genomics has been already highlighted in the way covid19 vaccines were developed within a year of the pandemic because the genome sequence of the SARS-COV-2 was made available. This led to faster detection of new variants which made it easier to contain the virus.

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.
Dr Rajiv J. Shah, President of The Rockefeller Foundation

At present genomics is widely used for the surveillance of diseases like HIV, tuberculosis and influenza. It's also used for many foodborne diseases. One particular effect of genomics use is how quickly scientists got to know of HIV drug resistance and developed antiretroviral systems to counter it.