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$100m initiative sharpens Africa's watch on diseases

By EDITH MUTETHYA in Nairobi, Kenya | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2020-10-16 08:47
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A schoolboy wears a face mask as he arrives at the Olympic Primary School during the partial reopening of schools, after the government scrapped plans to cancel the academic year due to the coronavirus disease pandemic, in Kibera slums of Nairobi, Kenya, on Oct 12, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

A $100 million program was launched on Tuesday with the aim of better controlling the coronavirus and a host of diseases endemic to Africa.

The Africa Pathogen Genomics Initiative is being led by the African Union Commission and managed by the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or Africa CDC. Also involved in the project are public, private and nonprofit organizations.

Involving a four-year partnership, the initiative will expand African authorities' access to the next-generation genomic sequencing tools and expertise designed to strengthen public health surveillance and laboratory networks across the continent.

The network is expected to not only help improve research and public health responses to the coronavirus and other epidemic threats, but also for endemic diseases such as AIDS.

John Nkengasong, director of Africa CDC, said that strengthening genomic surveillance systems is the key for early notification and control of disease outbreaks.

"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 coronavirus pandemic."

"The Africa Pathogen Genomics Initiative 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."

The initiative is part of the Institute of Pathogen Genomics, which was launched by the Africa CDC in 2019. It aims to integrate pathogen genomics and bioinformatics into public health surveillance and outbreak investigations, along with improving disease control and prevention in Africa.

Training program

As part of a training program, a next-generation sequencing academy will be created to provide national public health institutes with the training and tools for use of pathogen genomics to guide decision-making on public health.

The academy will offer opportunities for researchers to participate in international collaboration on infectious disease genomics.

"Over the last five years, I have seen firsthand how pathogen genomics has helped uncover disease outbreaks and guided real-time outbreak responses more and more in West and Central African countries," said Christian Happi, director of the African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases.

"Scaling up and integrating genomics capacity into existing but often-siloed diagnostics platforms, and connecting them to form a Pan-African network, will provide exciting opportunities to take public health surveillance to the next level."

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