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Background: Going forward, the routine implementation of genomic surveillance activities and outbreak investigation is to be expected. We sought to systematically identify the emerging ethical challenges; and to systematically assess the gaps in ethical frameworks or thinking and identify where further work is needed to solve practical challenges. Methods: We systematically searched indexed academic literature from PubMed, Google Scholar, and Web of Science from 2000 to April 2019 for peer-reviewed articles that substantively engaged in discussion of ethical issues in the use of pathogen genome sequencing technologies for diagnostic, surveillance and outbreak investigation. Results: 28 articles were identified; nine United States, five United Kingdom, five The Netherlands, three Canada, two Switzerland, one Australia, two South Africa, and one Italy. Eight articles were specifically about the use of sequencing in HIV. Eleven were not specific to a particular disease. Results were organized into four themes: tensions between public and private interests; difficulties with translation from research to clinical and public health practice; the importance of community trust and support; equity and global partnerships; and the importance of context. Conclusion: While pathogen sequencing has the potential to be transformative for public health, there are a number of key ethical issues that must be addressed, particularly around the conditions of use for pathogen sequence data. Ethical standards should be informed by public values, and further empirical work investigating stakeholders' views are required. Development in the field should also be under-pinned by a strong commitment to values of justice, in particular global health equity.

Original publication




Journal article


Wellcome Open Res

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NGS, ethics, global health, infectious disease, pathogen genomics