Research policy

The Initiative on Genomics & Public Health

Genomics in WHO

Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals

The application of technologies and information based on genetic sequences is being undertaken in the context of the surveillance of vaccine-preventable diseases in the following areas:

Measles and Rubella surveillance

Of the 679 laboratories worldwide that constitute the laboratory network for surveillance of measles and rubella infections, 40 labs have sequencing capacity and provide sequencing services for the remainder of the Laboratory Network. The LabNet has established a nomenclature system for classifying and naming viruses based upon standardized sequencing windows for both measles and rubella. Currently, more than 8000 measles viruses and 600 rubella viruses have been sequenced and submitted to the WHO genotype database. By September 2010, more than 60% of 1090 measles virus sequences submitted to the database in 2010 were within 2 months of the onset date of the case. The aim is for close to real time reporting of sequences to allow rapid determination of whether outbreaks are due to imported or indigenous virus strains.

Vaccine-preventable diseases targeted by new vaccines

With the licensing and roll-out of new vaccines against rotavirus diarrhoea and three invasive bacterial diseases (Haemophilus Influenza type B, Streptococcus Pneumoniae and Neisseria Meningitidis), WHO has established global laboratory networks for surveillance and characterization of Rotavirus and Invasive Bacterial Pathogens. Ten regional reference laboratories (RRLs) for Rotavirus and ten RRLs for vaccine preventable invasive bacterial diseases (VP-IBD) have been identified to provide sequencing capabilities for the entire regional networks. It is envisaged that twice a year, WHO will issue a Bulletin to analyse information that will be received regularly from the networks.