Ignoring wastewater is a wasted opportunity to improve disease response

During the COVID-19 pandemic, wastewater surveillance emerged as a valuable tool to predict disease burden and help public health administrators shape emergency response. This form of surveillance — estimating viral load in wastewater as a proxy for infection rates — has only been complementary to clinical testing thus far.

In May 2023, WHO declared that COVID-19 is no longer a global health emergency, and most countries will now manage it just like any other infectious disease, with clinical testing becoming rare. Wastewater surveillance assumes even more importance in this scenario, as a permanent smart surveillance strategy and early warning framework that can predict future outbreaks.

The real value of wastewater surveillance is in open sharing of evolving viral trends. The pandemic has influenced the way scientists share crucial data on social media platforms or real time dashboards. For example, in India, the Tata Institute for Genetics and Society (TIGS) shares Bengaluru city wastewater SARS-CoV-2 surveillance data on social media. The researchers also project weekly trends of variant information and supply them to the local municipal government.

Read the full article by Dr. Farah Ishtiaq in Nature India here