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NCDC unveils initiative to enhance public health security

by Haruna Gimba
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By Iyemah David

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) has unveiled the National Sequencing Consortium to strengthen public health security in the country.

Speaking during the inauguration in Abuja, the Director-General of NCDC, Dr Jide Idris said the consortium was an initiative set to revolutionise the nation’s public health infrastructure.

Genomic sequencing is a process where scientists read and map out all the DNA in an organism, such as a human being.

DNA is like a long instruction manual inside our bodies that tells our cells how to work. By sequencing the genome, scientists can understand the exact order of the “letters” (A, T, C, and G) in this manual.

This helps in finding out more about genetic diseases, developing better treatments, and even improving crops and livestock for better agriculture.

Dr Idris said that the launch of the consortium signified President Bola Tinubu’s commitment to advancing public health and leveraging cutting-edge science to improve the health of Nigerian citizens.

“This initiative aims to strengthen Nigeria’s health security and position the country as a key player in global genomic research,” he said.

He highlighted the importance of genomic sequencing in the rapid identification and characterization of pathogens, disease surveillance, and outbreak detection, enabling precise public health interventions.

“The pandemic underscored the need for effective genomic data management, now recognized as critical for national security with significant economic and diplomatic implications.

“Historical challenges in genomic data sharing within Nigeria, particularly in the private sector and academia, have led to data loss and missed opportunities. Nigeria also lacks a centralized national genomic data repository.

“The new strategy aims to enhance connectivity between disease control programs and surveillance networks. Investments made during the pandemic to upscale laboratory capacities have yet to be fully utilized due to limited synergy among programs.

“The national genomic sequencing consortium will coordinate and oversee the implementation of surveillance strategies, fostering collaboration and resource sharing among researchers and institutions.

“It will also standardize data collection and analysis, and provide educational resources for researchers,” he highlighted.

He said that this initiative was a pivotal step towards enhancing Nigeria’s public health laboratory functions and establishing the country as a strategic hub for genomic research.

Also speaking, Professor Christian Happi, the Director of the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGRID), highlighted the significant strides and challenges faced in genomic sequencing in Nigeria.

Happi identified key challenges as; “Handling the vast data generated by genomic sequencing requires specialized skills.

“There is a notable gap in trained professionals, leading to analysis bottlenecks and delays in outbreak responses.

“Many graduates lacked the necessary bioinformatics expertise, causing valuable data to remain underutilized. Addressing this knowledge gap was essential for advancing ACEGRID’s work.

“Continuous maintenance of genomic sequencing instruments was hampered by a lack of technical experts and biomedical engineers. Equipment malfunctions led to significant delays in research.

“High costs and unreliable supply chains for essential materials posed significant challenges.

“Sequencing consumables were expensive and difficult to procure, with personalized medicine costs reaching at least $500 per sample, raising concerns about accessibility on a larger scale.

He said that ACEGRID aimed to extend its work beyond discoveries to practical applications that could save lives, highlighting the importance of overcoming these hurdles for the advancement of genomic research and public health in Nigeria.

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