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Enhancing influenza and SARS-CoV-2 sequencing capacity through hands-on training programme

11 February 2023 | Departmental news

In 2022, 40 specialists from National Influenza Centres from 26 countries from three WHO Regions received hands-on genomic sequencing training to strengthen genomic surveillance capacities of the WHO Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS) to conduct influenza and SARS-CoV-2 genomic surveillance – a key activity for current and future surveillance efforts. Trainings for NICs in other WHO Regions will continue this year.

Why is genomic surveillance essential? 

Genomic surveillance of influenza and SARS-CoV-2 enables continuous monitoring of the rate of evolution of the pathogens, identifying existing and novel variants, and providing an alert mechanism of the pathogens' spread and countermeasures. WHO encourages GISRS laboratories to sequence influenza and SARS-CoV-2 positive samples collected from sentinel surveillance promptly and share genetic sequence data with accompanying metadata through public-domain or public-access databases. 

What are the objectives of the courses?  

In August 2022, the WHO Global Influenza Programme and WHO Regional Offices, in partnership with the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  and the Association of Public Health Laboratories, launched hands-on genomic sequencing and bioinformatics training courses to support GISRS influenza and SARS-CoV-2 genetic surveillance efforts. The aim of the course was to build and enhance laboratory sequencing capacity in Member States in implementing the end-to-end integration of SARS-CoV-2 into their influenza surveillance activities.

The training curriculum includes the following:

  • Understanding genomic sequencing and bioinformatics concepts
  • Assessment of genomic sequence data quality
  • Analysis/interpretation of genomic sequencing data
  • Submission of data to public-domain or public-access databases (e.g. GISAID)

Who is the course designed for?  

The target audience includes laboratory representatives from NICs responsible for influenza and SARS-CoV-2 genomic sequencing, informatics, quality control, database submissions, and sequence analysis/interpretation. 

How many participants have been trained and what are future plans?  

In 2022, 40 specialists from the NICs from 26 countries from the three WHO Regions were trained at two onsite sequencing training sessions. The first session was conducted for NICs from the WHO Regions of South-East Asia and the Western Pacific. It was held in partnership with the WHO-recognized NIC Thailand at the National Institute of Health. The second session was conducted for NICs from the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region, in partnership with the WHO-recognized NIC Oman at the Central Public Health Laboratory. Future trainings are planned for other WHO Regions this year.