WHO – Emerging trends and technologies: a horizon scan for global public health
11 March 2022
This publication presents the findings of a global horizon scan, conducted by a group of international experts, on emerging technologies and trends relevant to global public health conducted in 2020 and 2021. The group identified 15 new and emerging technologies and scientific advances that may have a significant impact on global health over the next two decades.
Advances in science and technology hold great promise and hope for new and improved ways to address global health and ensure healthier populations worldwide. They could potentially fundamentally transform global health. This horizon scan presents 15 priority topics, including ethical and societal challenges, and risks and opportunities that require closer attention.
Issues identified to become prominent within 5 years
[Examples from list above]
Pandemic preparedness and prevention
A response to the COVID-19 pandemic requires a significant shift in resources and attention towards pandemic preparedness, particularly for zoonotic infections. Pandemics are likely to become more complex, frequent and difficult to contain for various reasons, including climate change, urbanization and interconnectivity (6).
An area for significant improvement in pandemic preparedness and response is trials of therapeutic interventions. A recent review by the US Food and Drug Administration (7) indicates that only about 5% of almost 2900 trial arms for potential COVID-19 therapeutics (involving > 500 000 patients) could be considered both randomized and adequately powered. Most of the studies could not provide useful results for the pandemic. Adaptive platform trials, in which multiple interventions are studied continuously, offer a promising way forward (8, 9).
As finance and policy shift towards infectious disease, efforts must be made to ensure that coordinated multilateral action prevails over national unilateralism. The Seventy-fourth World Health Assembly recommended a timely start to negotiation of an international treaty on pandemic preparedness and response. On 1 September 2021, the WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence was inaugurated in Berlin, Germany, and on 1 December 2021 a Special Session of World Health Assembly agreed by consensus to start a global process to draft and negotiate a convention, agreement or other international instrument under the Constitution of the World Health Organization to strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.
More coordinated, effective systems of vaccine production and global distribution will be necessary both in the coming years, as COVID-19 vaccination programmes unfold, and in the longer term, as countries prepare for future disease outbreaks. During COVID-19, wide inequity in vaccination distribution have become apparent, ranging from “vaccine nationalism”, whereby countries prioritize their own populations over the global good, to “vaccine diplomacy”, whereby countries strategically
provide vaccines to others for geopolitical ends. Targeted, equitable, efficient distribution of vaccines would contain the pandemic sooner, lower global morbidity and mortality rates and reduce the chance of new strains arising (10).
Improving vaccine access will require coordination and significant changes to current approaches, not only extending vaccine production. Vaccines must also be accessible, affordable, trusted and used efficiently (10). Achievement of each of these criteria will require a cooperative global approach…
In this horizon scan, we identified various technical, societal and economic issues that deserve close attention. WHO is already addressing a number of these areas and is actively engaged, for example, by convening expert groups, issuing guidelines and guidance and setting norms and standards on many of the topics identified…
…Proactive engagement must include not only critical assessment of the ethical dimensions, such as misuse, but also issues of access and equity. Equally important is building robust capacity and deploying resources to promote benefits and confront challenges arising from advances in science and emerging technologies with relevant skills to assist and inform the work of WHO, its Member States and stakeholders.