WHO launches ‘CoViNet’ — a global laboratory to monitor emerging coronaviruses

News Excerpt:

The World Health Organization (WHO) has established a new network called CoViNet, aimed at enhancing global capacities for the detection, monitoring, and assessment of coronaviruses.

About the news: CoViNet expands upon the groundwork laid by the WHO COVID-19 reference laboratory network established in January 2020, broadening its focus beyond SARS-CoV-2 to include other coronaviruses such as MERS-CoV and potential novel coronaviruses of public health importance.

  • What is CoViNET: The CoViNet initiative underscores a comprehensive One Health approach, which integrates expertise from various sectors including human, animal, and environmental health. By pooling resources and expertise, CoViNet seeks to effectively monitor and assess the evolution and spread of coronaviruses.
  • Why it came into picture: The WHO SARS-CoV-2 Reference Laboratory Network, established in January 2020, initially aimed to provide confirmatory testing to countries with limited testing capacity for SARS-CoV-2. 
    • However, as the pandemic progressed, the need to monitor the virus's evolution, the spread of variants, and their impact on public health became increasingly apparent. 
    • Consequently, WHO has decided to expand and revise the scope, objectives, and terms of reference, leading to the establishment of the new WHO Coronavirus Network (CoViNet).
  • Composition of CoViNET: At present, CoViNet comprises 36 laboratories from 21 countries across all six WHO regions. 
    • These laboratories specialize in human, animal, and environmental coronavirus surveillance. A recent meeting held in Geneva saw representatives from these laboratories coming together to finalize an action plan for 2024-2025. 
    • The plan aims to equip WHO member states with better capabilities for early detection, risk assessment, and response to coronavirus-related health challenges.

CoViNet's core objectives include:

  • Early and accurate detection of SARS-CoV-2, MERS-CoV, and other novel coronaviruses of public health importance.
  • Surveillance and monitoring of the global circulation and evolution of these coronaviruses, adopting a One Health approach that includes expertise in animal health and environmental surveillance.
  • Timely risk assessment to inform WHO policies related to public health and medical countermeasures.
  • Support for capacity building of laboratories, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, to address the needs of WHO and CoViNet.
  • Data generated and synthesized through CoViNet will support WHO decision-making, particularly through Technical Advisory Groups on Viral Evolution (TAG-VE) and Vaccine Composition (TAG-CO-VAC).

Disease X

COVID-19 marked the emergence of the first 'Disease X,' a term coined by the WHO to denote an unknown disease anticipated to have significant global impact. Disease X represents a potential threat of unprecedented magnitude, often expected to be a zoonotic disease caused by an RNA virus. Within this category, coronaviruses stand out as a prominent example, constituting a diverse family of RNA viruses with pandemic potential.

Benefit: 

  • Coronaviruses have repeatedly demonstrated their potential for causing epidemics and pandemics, making proactive monitoring and assessment essential. CoViNet's data will inform WHO's Technical Advisory Groups on Viral Evolution and Vaccine Composition, among others, to shape global health policies and tools based on the latest scientific insights. 
  • CoViNet adopts a One Health approach, integrating expertise in human, animal, and environmental health surveillance to comprehensively assess coronavirus threats. The reference laboratory component of CoViNet is currently in progress, with plans to incorporate labs specializing in animal health, environmental surveillance, and wastewater pathogen surveillance. 
  • CoViNet's national presence will be strengthened through expanded Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS) and the adoption of an integrated respiratory pathogen surveillance approach.

Conclusion:

In light of the potential novel coronaviruses of public health importance, the establishment of CoViNet represents a significant step forward in global pandemic preparedness, ensuring that the world is better equipped to detect, monitor, and respond to emerging coronaviruses, thereby mitigating the potential impact of future pandemics.