The African Continent Ramps Up Efforts To Crack the Code on Outbreaks

Apr 17, 2023 9:30 AM ET
Campaign: Access

Originally published on Devex

By Sara Jerving

On a recent afternoon in Nairobi, Kenya, about two dozen scientists gathered, peering at a screen that to the untrained eye looked like gibberish — rows of letters but no coherent words.

The scientists were attending a training to advance skills in the analysis of genomic sequences — a process where the genetic code of an organism is turned into data which reveals information about its characteristics. It’s an important technique in public health to determine what pathogen is inflicting a community and whether it’s mutating.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, only seven African countries had national laboratories equipped to do this. But the need to identify new variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 forced laboratories to ramp up this expertise in an unprecedented way.

During the first year of the pandemic, the Africa Pathogen Genomics Initiative was launched as a partnership to close gaps in genomics capacity. As part of that partnership, over the past two years, American biotechnology company Illumina donated over $9 million in sequencing systems, reagents, and training to the continent.

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