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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Nigerian agency launches national genomics consortium

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The Nigeria Center for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) has launched a National Genomic Surveillance Consortium (NGSC) to improve the country’s public health infrastructure and strengthen health security.

According to NCDC Director General Jide Idris, the consortium will position Nigeria as a hub for genomic sequencing in the global south.

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Speaking at the inauguration of the consortium and stakeholder engagement meeting for the development of a genomic strategy on Thursday in Abuja, Idris emphasized the importance of genomic sequencing in addressing public health challenges.

“Genomic sequencing improves our ability to respond to health threats by providing detailed information about the genetic basis of diseases, enabling more precise and effective public health interventions,” he said.

Genomic sequencing is a laboratory technique that helps scientists discover the complete genetic blueprint of an organism or type of cell.

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In recent years, Nigeria has embarked on genomic sequencing activities, prioritizing public health and disease surveillance. It also covers a wide range of activities spanning various fields, from health to agriculture and biotechnology development.

Need for a genomics consortium

Idris further noted that the implementation of genomic sequencing became evident during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“Effective data management is now recognized as a national security issue with profound economic and diplomatic implications,” he said.

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The Director General highlighted the key reasons for establishing a consortium, noting that it will serve as a coordination and oversight body responsible for the implementation and monitoring of the NCDC’s genomic surveillance strategy.

He noted that the consortium will facilitate collaboration between various researchers and institutions to enable the exchange of data, tools and expertise.

He added that he will be responsible for “pooling data from multiple sources to conduct more complete and statistically robust studies, identifying patterns and significant genetic associations.”

NGSC structure

Speaking on the consortium, Olusola Akanbi, an infectious disease expert, noted that the NGSC structure is chaired by the DG and co-chaired by academia, whose role includes setting the strategic vision and objectives, providing leadership, national assistance and oversight. of the resources. mobilization.

Ms. Akanbi further stated that the structure is characterized by six pillars, including coordination and resource mobilization, data management and bioinformatics, quality assurance, emergency preparedness and response, research development and innovation and the supply chain management and procurement pillar.

In his remarks, Sunday Omilabu, a virologist, recounted the progress made by the government to address the public health challenges encountered in the country.

Omilabu noted that some of the facilities implemented include the National Reference Laboratory (NRL) and the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR).

As part of its effort to achieve these, the Nigerian Center for Disease and Control (NCDC) was created in 2011 and has played an important role in coordinating activities for infectious disease surveillance.

In 2017, the federal government launched the Nigerian Genome Project, which aims to sequence the genomes of Nigerians to better understand the genetic basis of diseases and develop personalized medical approaches.

It collaborated with international partners, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to support these activities.

Gap, the way forward

Also highlighting the challenges mitigating genomic sequencing activities, the NCDC Director General noted that Nigeria has limited coordination for information and that regulations governing the sharing of genomic surveillance data outside Nigeria have been inadequate.

“This breach has resulted in significant losses of data and opportunities for national benefits,” he said.

According to Omilabi, challenges include loss of sequencing reagents and consumables, the supply chain of consumables, sample logistics and transportation challenges, and poor remuneration for genomics experts.

READ ALSO: NCDC highlights challenges facing disease fight in Nigeria

He suggested the development of a national strategy, expanding the sequencing network and scaling up sequencing using high-throughput platforms.

“Develop capacity for whole human genome sequencing to understand host-pathogen interaction, research, vaccine development and personalized medicine,” he said.

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