Stellenbosch University-led consortium gets R101-million grant for future epidemics in Africa

A Stellenbosch University-led international consortium has been awarded a multimillion-rand grant to help manage future epidemics in Africa. The grant is from the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership, which funded five international awards. The project is the only one led by Africa.

Professor Tulio de Oliveira, Supplied/Stellenbosch University.

By Yoliswa Sobuwa, News24, 14 Sep 2023

A R101-million grant has been awarded to a Stellenbosch University-led international consortium for the management of future epidemics in Africa.

The grant is from the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP3), which funded five international awards, and this project is the only one led by Africa.

The multimillion-rand grant comes five months after the university launched a billion-dollar biomedical research institute.

At the time of the launch, renowned scientist Tulio de Oliveira, a professor of bioinformatics at the School for Data Science and Computational Thinking at Stellenbosch University, said the country was in the age of epidemics.

"It was going to be an armed race between humans and pathogens," he said.

Speaking about the grant, he said it was awarded for a project called Genomic Surveillance to Control Pathogen Infections in Africa (GenPath Africa).

"GenPath Africa's overall goal will be to control pathogen infections in the continent. The award will enhance genomic surveillance capacity, strengthen genomic sequencing and provide training in advanced analysis and interpretation in southern and eastern Africa," he said.

He added that the consortium would include epidemiologists, clinicians, bioinformaticians, immunologists and virologists to increase the use of genomic epidemiology to address important public health issues, such as HIV-1, tuberculosis and antimicrobial resistance in South Africa, Kenya and Mozambique.

"Despite the rapid expansion of genomic sequencing capacity and increased genomic surveillance during Covid-19 pandemic, the global response to SARS-CoV-2 illuminated the barriers that prevent the world from having readily available, reliable and comprehensive genomic data to aid public health decision-making," he said.

GenPath Africa will quickly survey and respond to epidemics, such as Rift Valley Fever, amplified by climate change.

De Oliveira said GenPath Africa will also use a one-health approach to conduct early warning testing in wastewater and animal surveillance to detect emerging pathogens.

He said GenPath Africa would advance the EDCTP3 work programme by:

In July, the head of the secretariat of the African Union Commission on Covid-19, Dr Lwazi Manzi, said it was concerning that South Africa did not have separate funds for pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. She said the situation could be problematic in the event of another pandemic.

De Oliveira said there was a need to plan for future pandemics by expanding genomic surveillance to other pathogens in Africa to quickly detect new emergent epidemics.

"The GenPath Africa team is well placed to apply genomic epidemiology to impact current and emerging epidemics in southern and eastern Africa," he said.

News date: 2023-09-14