A new study shows that global pathogen surveillance systems are complex and fragmented. To increase the efficiency, common priorities and approaches as well as better and smarter use of data are needed.
Pathogen surveillance for infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is an important tool to understand how illnesses spread across populations. Surveillance activities can alert us when new pathogens, mutations or viral strains emerge. These alerts can enable further investigations and rapid response, helping to prevent further spread and public health-related harms.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, pathogen surveillance played a significant role in mapping and managing the pandemic. The pandemic also revealed some gaps in pathogen surveillance on a global scale. These included limited capacity in some countries and regions to conduct surveillance, challenges related to data sharing, and delays in analysing data and using it to inform public health decision-making.
To address these gaps, the Novo Nordisk Foundation commissioned the not-for-profit, policy research organisation RAND Europe to do a study with the aim of understanding the challenges related to pathogen surveillance, and how data from this surveillance has been used to inform public health decision-making.
“We clearly see a need to close several gaps in the current pathogen surveillance systems. To do so, we need to bring together different stakeholders to agree on priorities and common approaches to pathogen surveillance. This includes increased collaboration across academic disciplines where knowledge about infectious diseases is combined with knowledge about how to collect, analyse, use, and share data related to pathogen surveillance in a responsible manner,” says Lene Oddershede, Senior Vice President, Natural and Technical Sciences, Novo Nordisk Foundation.
No unified international surveillance system exists
The overall conclusion of the study is that no unified international surveillance system exists. This results in a mix of larger and smaller stakeholders collecting and analysing surveillance data across the public, not-for-profit and private sectors.
Furthermore, data is collected in various formats, and the different systems are often not interoperable. This results in a complex and fragmented pathogen surveillance space.
The need to improve the ability to conduct real-time and integrated surveillance stands out as a key recommendation in the study. This includes advances in genomic surveillance, wastewater surveillance as well as better use of artificial intelligence (AI) and data science. Furthermore, it includes a need to focus on sharing data in a responsible manner, complying with both FAIR and CARE principles.
More information about the study
The study “Data collection and sharing for pathogen surveillance – Making sense of a fragmented global system” was conducted by RAND Europe and commissioned by the Novo Nordisk Foundation.
The study identifies 64 different initiatives relating to pathogen surveillance. The initiatives include a variety of stakeholders, including national and regional Centres for Disease Control (CDCs), the World Health
Organization (WHO), national governments and other public sector stakeholders, and large charities, foundations and other third sector organisations.
By looking across these initiatives and gathering expert insights, the study identifies several challenges and gaps in pathogen surveillance as well as suggested actions for improving the surveillance systems.
Download the full report here.