PLEASANT VALLEY, Connecticut — By providing greater context for diseases, the study of genomics has revolutionized medical science. But are these advances limited to developed countries?
In 2003, the National Human Genome Research Institute completed the goal of the Human Genome Project, and successfully produced a sequence of the human genome. By bringing together the genetic sequences of many people, the Human Genome Project produced a generic human genome sequence. Since this sequence was produced, it has been used for the purposes of a number of different studies relating to human health, such as tracking trends in genomic variations that give individuals a greater chance of getting certain diseases, or indentifying genetic mutations that are in hostile cells.
Genomics is allowing doctors to have a greater breadth and depth of understanding of diseases. Now, health professionals are able to better identify and compare the role of the environment and the role of genetics in diseases to provide superior diagnoses and treatments to patients. Similarly, personalized medicine has emerged from the study of genomics to allow patients to have treatments catered to their specific genetic code.
But are the benefits of genomics felt only in developed countries, where there is funding and access to health facilities that allows for it? Do developing countries benefit from genomics?
There is a large divide in access to health care and the number of diseases between high, medium and low income countries. 85 percent of the population of the world is from low and middle income countries. 92 percent of the global disease burden also comes from these countries. While high income countries are able to receive the benefits of health research and improved medical infrastructures, these low and middle income countries, the ones that have the highest disease burden, do not benefit.
Furthermore, much of the research done in high-income countries does not benefit those in middle or low income countries: 90 percent of the money spent on health research is focused on health problems that only affect 10 percent of the world’s population. While genomics is revolutionizing medicine in developed countries, developing countries are not reaping its medical benefits.
However, even if low and medium income countries did have the funds to study genomics, it is likely that these funds would go to more immediate medical concerns such as HIV/AIDS or Tuberculosis.
To ultimately provide individuals around the globe with the medical care developed countries are able to provide its citizens, it would be necessary for countries around the world to share research, technologies and information with one another.
Many organizations are working to integrate genomics and global health. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Human Genetics Programme shares information about genomics among WHO member states. Similarly, the Centre for Genomics and Global Health is utilizing research in data science, networks and technology to establish an infrastructure to globally use genomics to fight diseases.
By providing countries around the world, regardless of income, with access to medical innovations such as genomics, the lives of millions around the globe would be dramatically improved.
– Lily Tyson