Advancing Genomic Surveillance in Africa: Insights from the GenPath Africa Annual Meeting

The GenPath Africa Annual Meeting at Stellenbosch University gathered leading scientists to discuss advancements in pathogen genomics for disease surveillance and outbreak management. Key topics included genomic sequencing of pathogens, drug-resistant TB, and wastewater-based surveillance. The event emphasized collaboration, ethical standards, and the development of a 10-year Integrated Pathogen Genomics Strategic Plan for Mozambique.

Pathogen genomics holds immense potential for improving disease surveillance, outbreak detection, and the management of endemic diseases in Africa. In its mission to advance the impact of genomic surveillance, GenPath Africa hosted an in-person project meeting on May 27-28 at the Biomedical Research Institute (BMRI) of Stellenbosch University. This event, funded by EDCTP3 brought together leading scientists and researchers to discuss advancements in genomic epidemiology and its critical role in controlling pathogen infections across the continent.

Organized by Cheryl Baxter, Tulio de Oliveira, and Suzette Grobler from Stellenbosch University’s Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation (CERI), along with Christoph Cyranski and Claudia Schacht from LINQ management, the event marked the first in-person meeting of the GenPath Africa project team, fostering collaboration and innovation.

Tulio de Oliveira set the stage by discussing genomics surveillance of current and emerging pathogens. He highlighted the importance of creating effective response strategies to future epidemics by conducting genomic sequencing of multiple pathogens. Annelies van Rie from the University of Antwerp and Rob Warren from Stellenbosch University focused on identifying the profile of current and emerging drug-resistant TB strains through next-generation sequencing. This approach is crucial for implementing precision action against drug-resistant tuberculosis.

Samuel Oyola from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and Michele Miller from Stellenbosch University emphasized the importance of optimizing genomic surveillance of Rift Valley fever (RVF) virus and detecting Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M.tb) in human and animal populations through wastewater-based surveillance. Oyola stated, "Wastewater surveillance provides early warning signals for pandemic preparedness and prevention strategies," highlighting its efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Gerard Tromp from Stellenbosch University presented on bioinformatics and digital tools, supporting effective data management across the entire GenPath Africa project. This aspect is vital for integrating and analyzing the vast amounts of data generated through genomic surveillance.

Nalia Ismael, head of the Genetics and Biotechnology Lab at Mozambique’s National Institute of Health (INS), emphasized the GenPath project's impact on Mozambique. She noted, "The GenPath project has contributed knowledge and experience in developing the 10-year Integrated Pathogen Genomics Strategic Plan for Mozambique. The goals of the project align with using genomic data for pathogens in a holistic One Health approach to strengthen the public health surveillance system."

Ethics in research was another focal point, with Jerome Amir Singh an independent ethics advisor, discussing essential aspects such as informed consent, data sharing consents and regulatory compliance, ensuring that all genomic research is conducted with the highest ethical standards.

Lastly, Claudia Schacht reviewed GenPath Africa’s role within the GenEpi Network, a collaboration between five projects working together to strengthen genomic epidemiology in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The meeting concluded with a dynamic virtual reality team-building challenge facilitated by Beach and Bush, highlighting the importance of teamwork and communication in scientific research.

The GenPath Africa meeting was a resounding success, fostering collaboration, sharing cutting-edge research, and setting the stage for future advancements in genomic surveillance and public health strategies across the continent. As the project progresses, the insights and connections made during this workshop will be invaluable in the ongoing fight against infectious diseases in Africa.

GenPath team members at the workshop at at the BMRI, Stellenbosch University, South Africa on 27-28 May 2024.

Winners of the virtual reality challemnge

News date: 2024-07-08