Illumina, Inc. has donated sequencing systems and related consumables to the African Union Commission through the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) to strengthen SARS-CoV-2 sequencing capabilities and capacity in 10 African countries. The cargo arrived Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, last week and the equipment is being distributed to respective Member States with funds from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“It is critical to provide access to next generation sequencing (NGS) technology throughout the world to drive a global response that will be effective in supporting SARS-CoV-2 control efforts and, ultimately, help improve human health. This donation will enable countries across Africa to deeply understand the circulating virus at scale, thus providing equitable access to important technology that can be used to help protect the health of the African population, and in turn, the world,” said Dr Phil Febbo, Illumina’s Chief Medical Officer.
Public health institutions in Africa have been implementing NGS-based surveillance to drive a deeper understanding of endemic diseases and outbreaks. SARS-CoV-2 positive samples are currently being sequenced by only a few African institutions to characterize circulating strains. Africa CDC is now expanding the network of institutions with NGS capabilities to enhance rapid characterization of specimens.
“I would never have imagined, as a virologist of 31 years of experience, that the world would see such a devastating, fast-replicating and evolving virus as we are seeing with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Access to this advanced technology will facilitate early detection and response and strengthen capacity in Africa to fight such a deadly virus with speed,” said Dr John Nkengasong, Director of Africa CDC.
NGS during an outbreak enables countries to understand how the virus is being introduced and spread, perform contact tracing, design control measures, and monitor how the virus is evolving in ways that may affect pathogenicity or the performance of diagnostics or therapies.
“Using NGS in the COVID-19 pandemic response will facilitate rapid and accurate identification of transmission pathways within and between populations. This donation will support Africa CDC’s programme to strengthening NGS capacity of public health institutions in Africa to better respond to the current and future disease threats,” said Dr Ahmed Ouma, Deputy Director of Africa CDC.
“NGS will enable countries to understand how the virus is introduced, and by comparing the genomes of viral strains from different SARS-CoV-2 samples, public health officials can know how they spread through the population. This information can help direct mitigation and control measures, and eventually support efforts to re-open borders and lessen restrictions when the outbreak subsides,” said Dr Yenew Kebede, Head of the Division of Laboratory Systems and Networks at Africa CDC.
Paula Dowdy, General Manager, SVP, Illumina EMEA, said: “At Illumina, we believe that the 1.3 billion people in Africa deserve access to the best quality of life that can be delivered through genomics. We are pleased to support this network of laboratories with donations of essential equipment and reagents for the important work of Africa CDC. Moreover, we value our strong relationships with these institutions not just at the time of this pandemic, but also more broadly as Africa continues to face other infectious disease epidemics.”
“Genomics represents the future of infectious disease control and treatment. The new reagents and equipment from Illumina are very timely. Our university is happy to partner with Africa CDC in contributing to efforts to sequence COVID-19 genomes across the continent so that we can track the spread and mutation of the virus,” said Christian Happi, Professor of Molecular Biology and Genomics and Director of the African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases at the Redeemer’s University, Nigeria, one of the centres to be supported with this equipment.