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Africa launches $100 million initiative to boost disease surveillance

By Edith Mutethya in Nairobi, Kenya | | Updated: 2020-10-14 19:42
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John Nkengasong, Africa's Director of the Centers for Disease Control, speaks during an interview with Reuters at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 11, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

A group of public, private and non-profit organizations, led by the African Union Commission through the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Tuesday launched the Africa Pathogen Genomics Initiative to boost disease surveillance and emergency response capacity in Africa.

The $100 million, four-year partnership will expand access to next-generation genomic sequencing tools and expertise designed to strengthen public health surveillance and laboratory networks across Africa.

The network is expected to not only help identify and inform research and public health responses to coronavirus and other epidemic threats, but also for endemic diseases, such as AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, cholera, and other infectious diseases.

Doctor John Nkengasong, director of Africa CDC, said strengthening genomic surveillance systems is 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," he said.

"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," he said.

The initiative will be part of the Institute of Pathogen Genomics, launched by Africa CDC in 2019, with a vision to integrate pathogen genomics and bioinformatics into public health surveillance, outbreak investigations, and improved disease control and prevention in Africa.

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

The academy will offer opportunities for researchers to participate in and lead international collaborations in 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," Christian Happi, director of the African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases. said.

"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," Happi said.

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