First expert meeting to accelerate access to human genomics in the WHO Western Pacific Region convened in Manila

The first regional Expert Meeting on Accelerating Access to Human Genomics for Public Health was convened by the WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific in Manila, Philippines, on 29–30 April 2024 and gathered 47 senior experts and observers from 14 Member States in the WHO Western Pacific Region.

This pivotal event was inspired by the WHO Science Council Report in 2022, which underscored the imperative of expediting access to genomic technologies in resource-constrained nations, and was developed in collaboration with the recently established genomics programme of work at WHO headquarters.

Objectives of the meetings were:

  • to raise awareness for the benefit and risks of genomic technology implementation in the Region;
  • to identify practical issues impeding the implementation of genomic programmes and opportunities to bolster initiatives in the field; and
  • to develop a joint vision on accelerating access to human genomic technologies in the Region.

Invited experts represented a broad spectrum of expertise and fields, including national genomic initiatives, cancer, rare diseases and congenital disorders, as well as bioethics and research policy. The assembly also included members of the Technical Advisory Group on Genomics from the Region. Participants engaged in discussions, sharing experiences and working in groups to discuss opportunities and address issues around advocacy, communication, education, equity and collaboration between stakeholders including the private sector.

With its diverse genomic profiles, socioeconomic dynamics and geopolitical landscape, coupled with significant successes in implementing large-scale human genomic initiatives, the Western Pacific Region is uniquely positioned to confront the challenges of promoting equitable access to genomic technologies. Experts noted the stark lack of diversity of Western Pacific populations in global genomic initiatives, especially from less-resourced countries and underrepresented groups. To address this, and to assure equitable sharing of benefits, they emphasized the need for enhanced genomic literacy, early engagement and partnership with diverse populations, and proactive stakeholder involvement. Additionally, they highlighted the lack of infrastructure and skilled professionals in the Region for genomic initiatives, proposing solutions like leveraging existing expertise and investing in training programs. Private sector engagement, cross-country collaborations, and ethical considerations were also deemed crucial.

The insights from the meeting highlight the complex interplay of opportunities and challenges in expediting access to human genomics for public health in the Western Pacific Region. They emphasize the imperative for coordinated action at the national, regional and global levels to fully harness the transformative power of human genomics in an equitable manner.

Learn more about genomics and the WHO response

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