Fana: At a Speed of Life!

Africa CDC convenes public health officials, experts to prepare the continent to respond to future outbreaks

Addis Ababa, December 5, 2022 (FBC) – Public health officials, experts, researchers, and scientists around Africa gathered at a major conference at the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in the past week to take stock of how ready, in a post-COVID-19 world, African countries are to face up to the next disease threat, confirmed Africa CDC.

‘Beyond COVID-19: Pathogen Genomics and Bioinformatics for Health Security in Africa’ was hosted by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), the autonomous health institution of the African Union (AU).

According to Africa CDC, the meeting held at the AU’s Headquarters in Addis Ababa from 29 November to 1 December 2022.

The event drew around 120 public health officials, researchers, and scientists from 49 AU Member States, as well as local and international partners.

The symposium, in particular, focused on the existing capacity along the full value chain of pathogen genomics and bioinformatics.

Participants reviewed the progress, challenges and lessons from the rapid expansion of pathogen genomics in Africa, through the Africa CDC’s Africa Pathogen Genomics Initiative (Africa PGI) and the work of other stakeholders over the past two years, the official press release by Africa CDC indicates.

These endeavours all form part of the mission of the Africa CDC, which was launched in 2017, to coordinate continent-wide responses to emerging, re-emerging and other diseases in African countries, explains Dr Sofonias Tessema, programme lead for pathogen genomics at Africa CDC.

The capacity in pathogen genomics, which is key to effective emergency response, was sorely lacking, he notes.

“Africa bears a disproportionate disease burden, and we face many deadly outbreaks every year, from Ebola and Cholera to Yellow Fever and polio,” says Dr Sofonias.

“Therefore, one of the foundational flagship projects of Africa CDC has been the setting up of capacity for pathogen sequencing around the continent. The project was initiated well before emergence of COVID-19, but it has certainly gained momentum because of the pandemic.”

“COVID-19 is a painful reminder of how ill prepared the continent was,” points out Dr Yenew Kebede, Head of the Division of Laboratory Systems and Network and Acting Head of Division of Surveillance and Disease Intelligence at Africa CDC.

In 2019, only seven of the 55 African Union Member States had public health laboratories or affiliates with next-generation sequencing (NGS) capacity.

Today, public health laboratories in at least 37 African countries have NGS capacity, with training and equipment planned to be rolled out to even more African countries.

Efforts are now also under way to build on that momentum.

“We are now ready for the next phase, as the Africa PGI moves beyond COVID-19 and as attention shifts back to more local and regional disease outbreaks,” says Prof Alan Christoffels, Director of the South African National Bioinformatics Institute (SANBI) at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, and Senior Advisor to Africa CDC.

These hubs are public health laboratories able to sequence SARS-CoV-2 pathogens, services that each extended to its neighbouring countries.

“We are keen that all countries in Africa develop the capacity for sequencing pathogens themselves, so that they know what they are dealing with during each outbreak,” says Dr Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, Acting Director of Africa CDC.

“We therefore must support individual countries to have the technology, the skills and the protocols in place to do so, as this new tool informs their response to outbreaks, epidemics and even pandemics.”

The Addis Ababa meeting, he adds, was a critical part of ongoing work to realise this vision, indicates the official statement from Africa, Africa CDC’s statement further indicates.

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