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The emergence of the Omicron, the new variant of the novel coronavirus SARC-CoV-2 virus has once again alerted countries to take measures against potential threat and disruption to health care systems. This highlights the importance of creating a genomic surveillance system, enabling granular data generation, and adopting technologies in analyzing and sharing these data in real-time to strengthen pandemic preparedness. The community of scientists and public health experts suggest that continuous pathogen surveillance and robust genomic sequencing are vital to understanding and curbing the pandemic.
Genomic surveillance helps track novel pathogens and variants of known pathogens. Pathogens, including the SARS-CoV-2 virus, continuously mutate to adapt to their hosts, resulting in variations in their genetic code.
Omicron is the fifth variant of concern (VOC) classified by the World Health Organization. The body has flagged it as a high-risk variant. And yet, India’s genome sequencing remains abysmally low across the world: 0.215 per cent of all cases until recently, according to the latest data available on the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID), the world’s largest database of novel coronavirus genome sequences.
The consultation report titled ‘Strengthening the genomic surveillance ecosystem for India’ summarizes the challenges and opportunities shared by the experts. The recommendations from leading Indian scientists and public health thought leaders include four guiding principles that are the foundation of a robust system:
Integrating and scaling sequencing as a component of disease surveillance,
Integrated genomic analysis into broader bioinformatics
Building a data system that fosters innovations in data science for forecasting or predicting disease outbreaks
And facilitating responsible data sharing to democratize scientific inquiry while building trust.
The report serves as a vital resource for policymakers, public health experts, and the global scientific community to strengthen the genomic surveillance ecosystem in India.