The World Health Organisation (WHO) says COVID-19 has had a catastrophic impact on lives and livelihoods, but it has also spurred impactful scientific research that gave the world a vaccine in record time and thrust genomic sequencing at the centre of pandemic response.

In a statement, the WHO says the world rapidly identified the virus that causes COVID-19 and developed diagnostic tests and other response tools thanks to genomic sequencing, which remains crucial in monitoring the evolution of COVID-19 and identifying variants of concern.

In Africa, the world health body is working with countries to scale up pathogen surveillance through genome sequencing to detect and respond effectively to COVID-19 variants.

In 2020, WHO and the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention established a COVID-19 sequencing laboratory network in Africa which has to date produced over 43 000 sequencing data.

Currently, the WHO Regional Office for Africa is collaborating with the South African National Bioinformatics Institute (SANBI) to set up the Regional Centre of Excellence for Genomic Surveillance and Bioinformatics in Cape Town, South Africa.

WHO is providing technical support as well as over US$ 4.5 million for operations in the Southern African Development Community region in the first six months. The centre will initially support 14 southern countries, increasing their sequencing capacity by five-fold monthly before expanding to serve more countries.

Regional Virologist with the WHO Regional Office for Africa, Dr Nicksy Gumede-Moeletsi says, “Genomic sequencing paves a clear path for us to track the COVID-19 virus, monitor mutations that can lead to new variants and respond effectively and in a timely manner to more infectious variants.”

Below is the full statement: