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The entire world is finding new ways to expand its surveillance network to assess COVID-19 response. In 2020, Serbia’s Torlak Institute of Virology received market approval for its seasonal influenza vaccine. This achievement was a result of years of investment, effort, and support to promote local production of vaccines within the country.
The development began in 2009 as an outcome under the Global Action Plan for Influenza Vaccines (GAP) aiming to enhance the equitable access and global availability of influenza vaccine, particularly during the pandemic. With GAP, the Torlak Institute is gaining immense support and help from international partners and the government to expand the manufacturing facility and design a novel process for producing influenza vaccines. Additionally, focusing towards new processes for clinical trials.
Similarly, in the early 2020, Nepal has been working tremendously to enhance the laboratory and epidemiological surveillance of influenza vaccines to detect an effective COVID-19 response.
The Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework Partnership Contribution has been building a strong support system to integrate all the latest information related to pandemic.
For example, Nepal has linked its certain illnesses such as severe acute respiratory infection sentinel surveillance and influenza-like illness with the prompt warning, alert, and response system to allow greater extent of disease surveillance.
As the spread of COVID-19 increased, Nepal Ministry of Health and Population increased the integration to promote a wide and quick response, which acts effectively to adapt to changes and widen the existing surveillance systems on three broad areas. This will allow detection and quick monitoring of the new virus and its strains.
Approach towards effective integration and expansion of surveillance systems
1. Wide accessibility through laboratory network
In January 2020, the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed at the National Influenza Centre (NIC). The NIC expanded the network so that Nepal had various laboratories across the country. For example, by 2021, 104 provincial public health laboratories have been developed. The design was created in such a manner that quality is same throughout the network. By adopting the WHO External Quality Assessment Programme, certain parameters were taken into account such as proficiency panels, monthly re-testing and on-site reviews.
2. Effective utilization of surveillance networks
In October 2021, Nepal implemented a novel multisectoral process to create a harmonizing surveillance system for identifying influence and SARS-CoV-2. The government officials combined the surveillance of both the viruses, therefore expanding the existing networks related to influenzas virus which can be utilized for SARS-CoV-2 testing. Under the guidance of US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testing kits can be used so that outbreaks of SARS-CoV-2 and influenza can be timely assessed.
3. Detection of genetic sequencing
In March 2021, the National Pathogen Genetic Sequencing Consortium was created with the help of Nepal NIC. WHO provided support to increase the capacity to allow genetic sequencing of these viruses. As of October 2021, consortium has sequenced over 100 genomes of SARS-CoV-2. Currently, all the recent updates are directly shared with the GISAID, a global sequencing platform promoting data sharing to assess the condition.
The efforts taken by Nepal demonstrate that the country is expanding its surveillance network not only at a national level but sharing the information on a global platform as well. COVID-19 preparedness requires joint collaboration from all the countries, and Nepal is striving to detect the virus spread at the earliest.