A recent report by the World Health Organization calls for implementation of community genetics programs in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Their focus is prevention of congenital disorders and genetic diseases at the population level, in addition to providing genetics services, including diagnosis and counseling. The proposed strategies include both newborn screening and population screening for carrier detection, in addition to lowering the incidence of congenital disorders and genetic diseases through the removal of environmental factors. In this article, we consider the potential impact of such testing on global health and highlight the near-term relevance of next-generation sequencing (NGS) and bioinformatic approaches to their implementation. Key attributes of NGS for community genetics programs are homogeneous approach, high multiplexing of diseases and samples, as well as rapidly falling costs of new technologies. In the near future, we estimate that appropriate use of population-specific test panels could cost as little as $10 for 10 Mendelian disorders and could have a major impact on diseases that currently affect 2% of children worldwide. However, the successful deployment of this technological innovation in LMICs will require high value for human life, thoughtful implementation, and autonomy of individual decisions, supported by appropriate genetic counseling and community education.
Keywords: Community genetics; Mendelian disease; low income countries; multiplexing; newborn screening; next-generation sequencing; preconception carrier testing.