Advocate for robust
Strengthening Global Laboratory
Systems for Everyone’s Protection
As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into yet another year, its evolving challenges continue to highlight the interconnectedness of public health systems and the importance of bolstering strong global systems to protect public health at home.
“Delta is the perfect example of that,” said Lucy Maryogo-Robinson, MPH, APHL director of Global Health. “One case somewhere else means you’re still at risk here.”
The pandemic has been a disruptive force for global health technology and laboratory systems, rapidly accelerating capabilities in many regions. In particular, COVID-19 has pushed next-generation sequencing (NGS) to the forefront of public health in parts of the world where it was not yet standard practice. This year, APHL collaborated with CDC Thailand to develop NGS capabilities in the region and ran a series of trainings on bioinformatics and genomic epidemiology for laboratorians in Southeast Asia. They have also devoted extensive support efforts to build NGS capability in many parts of the world, including in countries where “we wouldn’t have imagined working on this for several years,” said Sherrie Staley, MPH, APHL deputy director of Global Health.
Helping more countries stand up sequencing enables better global tracking of disease trends and variants, data that is critically important to help public health officials spot new variants and areas of concern. “We need surveillance capabilities strategically placed to understand what this virus is doing and where it’s going next,” Maryogo-Robinson said. Widespread sequencing also informs understanding of the efficacy of current vaccines and therapeutics.
The NGS work builds on ongoing efforts to build stronger informatics infrastructure in laboratories throughout Africa, Asia and other parts of the world. APHL has been working with more than 10 countries as they assess public health goals, conduct strategic planning and identify systems that match their data needs and available resources. During the pandemic, APHL staff and local officials have been able to leverage existing laboratory information systems in support of COVID responses, enabling faster electronic collection, management and reporting of data. APHL also helps local teams retrieve and analyze the data for broader use in guiding public health action.
APHL has also continued other work to strengthen global laboratory systems and support workforce development. A pilot implementation of the Global Laboratory Leadership Programme (GLLP) launched this year in Ukraine in collaboration with the CDC Ukraine office and Ukraine Public Health Center. “We think this will be a pivotal program for the laboratory system in Ukraine,” Staley said. This two-year, comprehensive laboratory leadership program offers training and mentoring for current and emerging laboratory leaders to help build and sustain robust national laboratory systems around the globe, ensuring that laboratories worldwide are ready and able to respond to public health outbreaks of international concern.
Planning is underway to deliver GLLP training materials in Tanzania, Mozambique and Sierra Leone, with support from the Global Fund.
The expanded laboratory systems and capabilities driven by the global COVID-19 response will help support other facets of public health as well. APHL takes a disease-agnostic approach, supporting platforms with broad, long-term applicability for HIV and other pathogens.
“It’s about building laboratory systems globally to be ready to respond to whatever comes next,” Maryogo-Robinson said. “We’re building foundational capability, not just for COVID response, but for public health response.”