By Sharon Atieno

With surveillance being at the centre of containing the spread of the coronavirus, the African Union Commission, on behalf of the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is receiving a $ 1.4 million donation of sequencing systems and related consumables intended to expand COVID-19 sequencing capabilities and capacity in ten African countries.

With only few African public health institutions implementing Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS) based surveillance on SARS-CoV-2 positive samples, the donation from Illumina Inc. will enable more countries to rapidly characterize outbreak samples, without the need to ship samples across borders.  These countries include: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda.

“It is critical to provide access to NGS technology throughout the world to drive a global response that will be effective in supporting SARS-CoV-2 control efforts, and ultimately, help improve human health,” said Illumina’s Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Phil Febbo.

“This donation enables the Africa CDC to deeply understand the circulating virus throughout the continent, providing equitable access to important technology that can be used to help protect the health of the African population. With this outbreak, it has become clear that enabling local or regional proactive surveillance will benefit those immediately at risk as well as all of us around the globe.”

According to Dr. Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, the Deputy Director of Africa CDC, the utilization of NGS with COVID-19 pandemic by African institutions will facilitate the rapid and accurate identification of transmission pathways within and between populations and provide information on the probable source.

 “Such tools will ensure that African countries have robust and precise methods for identifying, comparing, and classifying pathogenic organisms in a timely manner. This donation will support Africa CDC’s program to strengthen NGS capacity within public health institutions on the African continent to better respond to current and future disease threats,” he said.

Christian Happi, Professor of Molecular Biology and Genomics in the Department of Biological Sciences, and the Director of the African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID), at Redeemer University in Nigeria, said: “Genomics represents the future of infectious disease control and treatment. The new reagents and equipment from Illumina are very timely. The ACEGID, together with other African institutions, has been mandated by the Africa CDC to contribute to the effort of sequencing coronavirus genomes across the continent to track the spread of the virus and its mutations. In order to do this, we need a lot of resources so we can not only support public health, but also contribute to international science and knowledge around this novel pathogen.”

“NGS enables countries to understand how the virus is introduced and spread, as well as perform contact tracing, design control measures, and monitor how the virus is evolving in ways that may affect pathogenicity, or the performance of diagnostics or therapies,” said Dr. Yenew Kebede head of the Division of Laboratory Systems and Networks at Africa CDC.

By comparing the genomes of viral strains from different SARS-CoV-2 samples, public health officials can understand how the virus is moving through the population. This information can, in turn, direct mitigation and control measures, and eventually support efforts to reopen borders for transport and travel, once the outbreak subsides.

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