Several public, private and non-profit organisations, have launched the Africa Pathogen Genomics Initiative (Africa PGI) in a US$100 million, four-year partnership to expand access to next-generation genomic sequencing tools and expertise.
The new initiative, led by the African Union Commission through the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), will help inform research and public health responses to Covid-19 and other epidemic threats, as well as endemic diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, cholera and other infectious diseases.
Dr John Nkengasong, director of Africa CDC said that Africa is experiencing frequent outbreaks of diseases and this continues to be magnified as the continent moves towards greater integration.
"Strengthening genomic surveillance systems is key for early notification and control of disease outbreaks.
He added: “Use and integration of advanced technologies such as next generation sequencing into surveillance and emergency response programs facilitates public health decision-making for better outcomes as evidenced in two ebola virus disease outbreaks and the current Covid-19 pandemic."
The Africa PGI will help Member States build their capacities to operate strong surveillance and laboratory networks supported by advanced technologies to reduce the burden of disease and respond to outbreaks quickly and effectively.
Meamwhile, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are contributing funding and technical assistance, with the US CDC’s technical contributions coming through its Advanced Molecular
Trevor Mundel, President of Global Health, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said expanding access to pathogen sequencing in Africa will accelerate efforts to detect new epidemics before they spread widely.
He added that to monitor their transmission in real time for more targeted and precise response, pathogen sequencing will also contribute to research and development efforts for new vaccines, diagnostics and treatments for current and emerging infectious diseases.
“It’s critical to empower scientists with the tools they need to stay one step ahead of pathogens,” added Mundel.
Genomic sequencing technologies help public health specialists and researchers to understand pathogens in greater detail, allowing them to better monitor and respond to emerging and re-emerging infections, including tackling antimicrobial resistance.
Genomic sequencing has been vital in shaping the global Covid-19 response. It has been used to develop accurate diagnostics, guide the development of vaccines, monitor the evolution of SARS-CoV-2, and understand its transmission dynamics.
In addition to Covid-19, around 140 disease outbreaks are detected annually in Africa, and antimicrobial resistance is a growing threat. Genomic sequencing will help to quickly detect the resurgence of a disease as well as control and eliminate endemic diseases such as malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, and HIV.
Beyond the physical laboratory network, Africa PGI will help build the capacity of NPHIs and scientists in Africa to fully use the NGS technology.