The Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR) has commenced a two-week training workshop titled “Next Generation Sequencing for Genomic Surveillance”.
The training which is being organised in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO), West Africa Health Organisation (WAHO), AfroScreen and the Africa Centre for Disease Control (Africa CDC) will bring together ten (10) participants from 8 African countries: Benin, Cape Verde, Cote d’ Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia, Mauritania, Sierra Leone and Togo.
The training is in line with the World Health Organisation’s aim of prioritising global surveillance and research activities to guide the responses to the SARS-Cov-19 pandemic will provide the participants with hands-on training in genomic sequencing to build their capacity understanding the different sequencing techniques and in particular, Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) techniques to know the different steps from sampling to generation and analysis of SARS-CoV-2 sequences.
Addressing the participants at the opening ceremony, Prof. Dorothy Yeboah-Manu Director of the NMIMR, noted that the Institute, as part of executing its core mandate, has for the past years been conducting and supporting various disease programmes of public health for different countries. Adding that at the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Institute was the first in-country to diagnose COVID-19.
“We started setting up the COVID-19 diagnostic centre. Genomic sequencing within the COVID-19 era is crucial because through that we will be able to evaluate the interventions that our various programmes have set and even our vaccination. The virus is changing, and we need to be ahead of the virus in order to design and prepare good tools that can be used to control the disease”, she said.
Prof. Yeboah-Manu further explained that genomic sequencing is the crosscutting expertise, that is not only for one pathogen. She added that “when we are equipped with this we can use it for other important diseases which are identified within the Sub-region, and we are very thankful to WHO for funding this training to equip the participating countries with the required skills to conduct sequencing in their own countries rather than bringing samples to Noguchi to be worked on”.
Dr. Francis Chisaka Kasolo, the WHO country representative, indicated that the genomic sequencing training is happening at an opportune time when the entire world is still dealing with COVID-19 and the emergence of different variants of concern. Dr. Kasolo added that “genomic surveillance is also a significant tool beyond COVID-19 as it has gained a central role in the detection of various variants, some of which have been shown to affect disease transmission severity and even a decrease in the effectiveness of some of our public healthy control tools”.
He further said that the pandemic has equally revealed the gaps in the health systems across the Sub-region, and in the particular laboratory, capacity to effectively and timely guide the different public health actions.
Dr. Kasolo indicated that the WHO remains committed to providing technical support for the development of public health capacity in the Africa region.
“The WHO through the Regional Office for the Africa Region (WHO AFRO) has instituted different programmes and activities over the period to improve the capacity for laboratory detection and surveillance in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Especially, for SARS-CoV-2 genomic surveillance, the WHO/AFRO with support from the Africa CDC has set up a network of reference laboratories together with NMIMR to support in gene sequencing for countries without existing capacity”, he added.
The NMIMR continues to play a leading role in biomedical research in the subregion and serves as a WHO regional reference laboratory for surveillance of some infectious diseases. The Institute also continues to play an important role in Ghana’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.