Image credits: fernando zhiminaicela
News Article

PAHO Reinforced Genomic Surveillance in Latin America

By Rodrigo Andrade | Tue, 08/30/2022 - 08:30

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) convened representatives from 17 public health laboratories across the Americas to carry out the 26th edition of the Viral Evolution and Molecular Epidemiology (VEME) to discuss and strengthen genomic surveillance in the region. Over 120 people assisted the training given by the Instituto Conmemorativo Gorgas de Estudios de la Salud (ICGES), the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ) and PAHO. 

"Studying the evolution of viruses is key to detecting mutations or variants that can modify the transmission rate or severity of a pathogen and affect the efficacy of diagnostic tests, vaccines and treatment," said Jairo Méndez, Emerging Viral Disease Advisor, PAHO.  

Genomic surveillance is “[the] process of constantly monitoring pathogens and analyzing their genetic similarities and differences,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The course was taught by over 50 experts on the subject from scientific institutions in 15 countries across the globe. It was divided into four modules that covered both theoretical and practical sessions that went from the generation of data from genomic sequencing to must-know information for managers and decision makers. 

This field has helped researchers, epidemiologists and health professionals to monitor and analyze the current state of various diseases, which has been a critical tool to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. “This is something we experienced with SARS-CoV-2, so we must deepen genomic surveillance for any emerging or re-emerging viruses,” said Méndez. 

The organization has been providing training in this field to integrate epidemiological surveillance in the Americas. Since 2020, the Safety and Immunogenicity of DNA-based Vaccine (COVIGEN) has sequenced over 426,000 samples from COVID-19 patients through Latin America and the Caribbean, according to PAHO. 

Mexico is currently facing its fifth COVID-19 wave. The country reached 7.14 million official infections on Aug. 28, reported by the Ministry of Health. The occupancy rate of beds with ventilators decreased to 3 percent. 

The country is missing many COVID-19 vaccines from the Global Access Fund for Vaccines against COVID-19 (COVAX) due to the latter’s failure to deliver the previously negotiated vaccines, said President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. According to the UN, the country has only received 24.6 million doses from the 51.5 million ordered from the fund, as reported by MBN. One day after López Obrador’s statement, Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell informed that Mexican Government received a “formal offer” for over 10 million shots that would arrive in September. 

Photo by:   fernando zhiminaicela
Rodrigo Andrade Rodrigo Andrade Junior Journalist & Industry Analyst