By Joyce Ojanji

Although virus sequencing is vital to detect and track new variants in the COVID-19 pandemic, sharing this information must be stepped up globally to help in enabling the development of tests, and vaccines against the disease, World Health Organization (WHO) says.

According to the organziation, since the peak of the Omicron wave, the number of sequences being shared has dropped by more than 90 percent, and the number of countries sharing sequences has fallen by a third therefore, countries experiencing intense transmission are urged to increase sequencing and to share those sequences.

‘’The first sequence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was shared with the world three years ago, which enabled the development of tests and vaccines against the disease,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

A WHO advisory group has published an assessment of the new Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5, which first emerged last October. Sequences have been reported from 38 countries, though mainly from the United States.

“Based on its genetic characteristics and early growth rate estimates, XBB.1.5 may contribute to increases in case incidence,” said the Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) in a statement.

“To date, the overall confidence in the assessment is low, as growth advantage estimates are only from one country, the United States of America.”

Tedros also called for the need to increase testing as it is critical for tracking variants and ensuring at-risk people receive adequate care.

Countries are also urged to provide better data on who is dying from the disease. Currently, just 53 out of 194 nations provide data that is disaggregated by age and sex.

Most deaths are among at-risk groups, with people 65 and older accounting for almost 90 percent of all deaths reported during the last six months of 2022.