Multimillion-dollar Covid-19 centre to be launched in SA
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A multimillion-dollar centre for genomic surveillance that is expected to be launched in the country, would help scale up sequencing and bioinformatics on the continent for Covid-19.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said Africa was lagging behind the rest of the world when it came to sequencing, accounting for only 1% of over 3 million Covid-19 sequences conducted worldwide.
This was as the pandemic’s third wave in Africa had taken a downward slide with a 23% decrease in new cases last week.
Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, addressed the media on Thursday on Covid-19, in particular on variants, and said that together with the South African National Bioinformatics Institute (Sanbi), they would be launching the Regional Centre of Excellence for genomic surveillance in Cape Town.
She said the initiative aimed to initially support 14 Southern African countries to scale up their genomic sequencing by 15-fold each month.
Moeti said the decrease in new cases recorded was driven largely by countries in northern and southern Africa adding that this was the steepest drop in eight weeks since the peak in July.
“This is an encouraging sign. We can see that it’s coming from a higher peak than the two waves. However, we are still at more than 160 000 new weekly cases, higher than the first wave’s peak. The progress was a stark reminder of the heavy toll Covid-19 has taken as we pass 200 000 lives lost to the virus.”
Moeti said the Delta variant was of particular concern. It had sparked flare ups, prolonging the acute phase of the third wave longer than had been expected.
She said in the past month, the Delta variant, which was also linked to the more severe Covid-19 cases and with more people catching the virus, was more transmissible.
Moeti explained that it was detected in over 70% of the sample sequenced in South Africa, Botswana, Malawi and almost all samples from Zimbabwe.
“Scientists are also tracking the C.1.2, a variant that has been found in 130 cases in 10 countries globally including five African countries where more than 90% of the cases were occurring mainly in South Africa. While the variant has some concerning mutations, there’s no evidence yet that it is more transmissible or that it affects vaccine efficacy.”
Professor Alan Christoffels, Sanbi director at the UWC, with the C1.2 variant, the occurrence of this mutated lineage occurs in less than 3% of SARS-CoV-2 genomes that have been sequenced.
“This variant is being constantly monitored. But at this stage, the numbers are quite low. And if we just look at the total genomes that the genomic surveillance networks in South Africa has sequenced, we’re looking at a data set of about 600 or so genomes. And among that we’ve got less than 3% of genomes that have shown this new C.1.2. So at this stage, it is still early days. Additional work will need to be done, and certainly more data needs to be collected in order to understand both the prevalence, but also the impact this will have on the spread of Covid-19.”