WHO calls for equitable expansion of genomics

July 13, 2022

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday it is not justifiable ethically or scientifically for less-resourced countries to gain access to genomics long after rich countries do.

In a report published by the WHO’s Science Council calling for equitable expansion of genomics, the agency said the disparity in access was hindering the world’s response to emerging health challenges.

“Genomic technologies are driving some of the most ground-breaking research happening today. Yet the benefits of these tools will not be fully realized unless they are deployed worldwide. Only through equity can science reach its full potential impact and improve health for everyone, everywhere,” said Dr Soumya Swaminathan, WHO Chief Scientist.

“Through convening and coordinating the world’s leading minds, as we do through our Science Council, WHO acts as a global engine for analysis to address the world’s most pressing health challenges,” she added.

The Science Council called for lowering the costs of establishing and expanding genomic technologies so as to be accessible to all countries.

It noted that in this quest, a range of tools to make genomic technologies more affordable for LMICs have been developed, including tiered pricing; sharing of intellectual property rights for low-cost versions; and cross-subsidization, whereby profits in one area are used to fund another.

“It is already clear that genomics can make enormous contributions to human health, from surveying populations for infectious agents, such as the virus that causes COVID-19, to predicting and treating a wide variety of diseases, such as cancers and developmental disorders. Attention to equity in deploying these technologies is essential for achieving the immense potential benefits to human health,” said the Council’s Chair, Professor Harold Varmus.


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