The World Health Organization (WHO) and the African Centre for Disease Control (Africa CDC) recently announced the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID) as one of the three reference laboratories for the storage and analysis of the genomes of infectious diseases in Africa. This announcement came on the heels of effort towards containing the spread of Covid-19 in Africa.
As a continental reference laboratory, ACEGID now has a mandate to lead Africa’s sequencing efforts for SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) and other disease-causing agents. This means that ACEGID will play pivotal roles in research, innovation and training, leading to better understanding of the nature of these pathogens, their modes of infecting people, and the creation of more effective, continent-wide prevention, surveillance and mitigation strategies for the diseases they cause. In this new role, ACEGID will also be responsible for developing and validating test kits, support accreditation of laboratories and quality assurance processes within Africa.
With initial funding from the World Bank, ACEGID was founded in 2014 as one of the centres of excellence aimed at reducing the shortage of skilled personnel and inadequate tools for research and innovative solutions to Africa’s challenges. Through research excellence, ACEGID has secured funding for high impact studies on infectious diseases from the United States Department of Defence, Human Heredity Health Africa (H3 Africa), Wellcome Trust, and United Kingdom Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, among others.
From our base at the Redeemer’s University, Ede, Nigeria, ACEGID has been extending the frontiers of research on infectious diseases in Nigeria and other countries in Africa. In 2014, ACEGID confirmed the first case of Ebola in Nigeria within 48 hours, a singular feat that led to early containment, management and control of the disease in Nigeria.
Ever since, ACEGID has been spearheading research, training and developments on infectious diseases in Africa. ACEGID has been working with partners on developing, testing and deploying rapid diagnostics tools for Ebola and Lassa virus. Using cutting edge molecular biology tools and techniques, these effort has led to the development of testing kits that determine the presence of Ebola virus and Lassa fever virus within 10 minutes. These kits are easy to use, do not require high-tech equipment, require minimal personnel training and are cheap (cost less than USD 1 per sample).
The centre has formed, and enjoys, a strong network of local and international partners including Irua Specialist Teaching Hospital, Irua, Edo State, University of Ibadan, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, as well as some state governments in Nigeria. Our international partners include Kenema Government Hospital, Sierra Leone, University of Sierra Leone, Université Cheikh Anta Diop, Senegal, the Joint West Africa Research Group, Harvard University, Broad Institute, Tulane University, University of Cambridge, University of Edinburgh, Stanford University, University of Connecticut, University of Nebraska, among others. Some of our private sector partners include Kreateng, Illumina, Dimagi and Corgenix.
ACEGID recently reported the identification of seven lineages of SARS-CoV-2 in Nigeria. This means that the forms of the virus in circulation within the country are different but their ability to cause diseases and the severity of illnesses is unchanged.
That ACEGID went from being a centre of excellence to a reference centre within seven years is proof of the commitment and dedication of the ACEGID team to the vision of an African continent that is not just a consumer of knowledge but also a producer of knowledge. The founding team (Prof. Christian Happi, Dr. Onikepe Folarin, Mr. Ken Onye and Mrs. Philomena Eromon) aggressively pursued this vision, and this has birthed an ecosystem of research excellence and innovation comprising a great number of highly motivated postgraduate students and interns, young men and women who are committed to the ACEGID vision.
The reward for good work is more work. The announcement by WHO and Africa CDC is a huge recognition of the great work being carried out here at ACEGID. It comes with more work for us as we lead the way for lighting the dark crevices of infectious diseases in Africa. We are committed to delivering on this new mandate as we work with national, regional and international partners to stay ahead of infectious diseases.