The African Centre of Excellence for the Genomics of Infectious Disease (ACEGID), Redeemer’s University, Ede, Osun State, has been named one of the regional repository and bioinformatics centres by the WHO and Africa CDC to provide sequencing, data analysis and other technical support services to the countries where they are located as well as to neighbouring countries and countries in their sub-regions.
This development was announced on Thursday, September 10, by the WHO and the Africa CDC through a press release announcing the launch of a network of laboratories to reinforce genome sequencing of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19, in Africa.
“As we continue to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa, being able to not only track its evolution but also assess the possible mutation of the virus is crucial to mounting an effective response,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “Through this new laboratory network dedicated to genome sequencing, we can better develop vaccines and treatment which are tailored to Africans and eventually bring COVID-19 under control.”
ACEGID, South African National Bioinformatics Institute (SANBI), and Kwazulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP) South Africa are the three regional repository centres charged with the responsibility of establishing a continental virus sequence repository, prepare and validate test kits, support laboratory accreditation and quality assurance processes among others.
Commenting on its new role, Christian Happi, the Director of ACEGID, told PREMIUM TIMES, that being named one of the reference laboratories, “is a recognition of what ACEGID has done for the continent and for the world, it is a great feat. It means that ACEGID has become a globally recognised and competitive entity when it comes to infectious disease research and genomics.”
“Being a reference laboratory on the continent, we have a mandate to support the 54 African countries in their quest for infectious disease research capacity development, training.”
According to Mr Happi, this means more work for the laboratory. “The reality is that it is more work for us because now we have an African and a global mandate: it means we have to operate at a different level, set standards, be a role model for every other laboratory on the continent” adding that ACEGID has to leave up to this by playing its role as a leader on the continent and one of the leaders globally.
“This definitely comes with a lot of pressure and responsibility,” he remarked.
Responding to the question on the capability of ACEGID to perform this function, Mr Happi said the Africa CDC and WHO conducted an extensive assessment of facilities and capacities across the continent. This assessment brought about the naming of the various laboratories that make up the network of laboratories.
ACEGID has been at the fore in the fight against infectious diseases in Nigeria: in 2014, it confirmed the first case of Ebola in Nigeria and developed a rapid diagnostics test approved by the US FDA and the WHO; after the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Lagos, the sample was made available to the laboratory where it was sequenced within 48 hours.
“In 2019, Africa CDC launched the Institute for Pathogen Genomics to support the integration of pathogen genomics and bioinformatics into public health surveillance, outbreak detection and investigations, and improve disease control and prevention in Africa. The establishment of the COVID-19 sequencing network will help improve surveillance in the continent and help countries to effectively manage and control the pandemic. As the COVID-19 pandemic curve flattens in Africa, we must be prepared for a possible resurgence as already observed in some countries. With genomic sequencing we can have a better understanding of the pandemic through more precise identification of transmission clusters,” said John Nkengasong, Director of Africa CDC.
While ACEGID, SANBI and KRISP serve at the continental level performing oversight functions, Institut Pasteur, Dakar, Senegal; Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR), Ghana; The Institut National de la Recherche Biomédicale (INRB), DRC; Centre International de Recherches Médicales de Franceville (CIRMF), Gabon; Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI), Uganda; National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), South Africa; Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), Kenya; National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Nigeria serve at national and regional levels.