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Wits scientists contribute to the largest data-driven COVID-19 response consortium of African scient


Wits scientists, Drs Florette Treurnicht, Jinal Bhiman, Catherine Scheepers and Mrs Ramuth Magalutcheemee, a PhD student from Mauritius) from the Department of Virology in the School of Pathology, made significant contributions to SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 genomics surveillance in South Africa.

Drs Nicole Wolter and Anne von Gottberg who are affiliated with the Department of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at the Wits Faculty of Health Sciences are also leading SARS-CoV-2 genomics surveillance in South Africa, especially for genomics data from other provinces besides the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

Ongoing genomics surveillance led to participation in a continent-wide collaboration for which the study outcomes will be published in the journal Science and are entitled “A continent-wide collaboration on genomics surveillance show the power of African science and how the majority of COVID-19 variants were introduced into Africa”. The study highlights the rapid growth of genomics surveillance in Africa with over 100 000 SARS-CoV-2 genomes analysed to characterise variants in real-time since the start of the pandemic.

More than 300 authors from Africa and elsewhere collaborated on this study forming the largest

consortium of African scientists and public health institutions working to support data-driven COVID-19 response in Africa. This is a great example of how the large investments, collaborations and capacity-building strategies in genomic surveillance on the African continent promoted timeous public health response in real-time.

The 1st author, Houriiyah Tegally, a Bioinformatician highlighted the impact of this collaboration as “We witnessed small countries with no previous genomics experience become empowered in sequencing and bioinformatics methods and start to actively participate in regular pathogen genomic surveillance for SARS-CoV-2”.

Mrs Magalutcheemee, a PhD student in the Department of Virology at Wits and a leading scientist in the National Central Health Laboratory in Mauritius assisted with the implementation of SARS-CoV-2 genomics surveillance using the Oxford Nanopore MinION portable next-generation sequencing system with subsequent utilisation of the same platform for influenza virus genomics to meet outputs towards her PhD, but ultimately this collaboration allowed her to the establishment of capacity for other respiratory virus genomics surveillance in her country.