It is believed there should be more genomic data from Africa for vaccine development considering the peculiarities of the continent and the possibility of a major mutation of the virus.

“Vaccines are usually developed based on the available pools of sequence data. Therefore, little or no data for Africa amounts to poor or no representation at vaccine development,” says Dr Moses Olubusuyi Adewumi, a virologist at the College of Medicine, the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. “If Africans fail to generate essential data and make such available we’ll possibly suffer the same fate as with Rotavirus vaccine.”

The low representation of genome sequences from Africa is not the only problem observed. There is also a low distribution of the sources of the sequences within the continent. The number of countries with the virus in the continent increase to 51 as South Sudan announced its first Covid-19 case this week but of all these countries only five have sequenced the genome of the virus.

As of April 12,  the Democratic Republic of Congo , Senegal and Ghana account for over 85% of the genomic sequences from Africa.

DR Congo alone accounts for almost half of the total genome sequences from Africa. Dr Adewumi linked this to collaboration and funding from foreign organizations and support of the government of the country. He said the recent Ebola virus outbreaks in DR Congo had led to capacity development in some of the labs in the country. While Senegal is benefitting from the capacity of Institut Pasteur de Dakar, one of the most reputable research institution in Africa, Ghana is making good use of a World Bank-supported Centre of Excellence (CoE) research institution in the country.

Nigeria also has a similar World Bank-supported center where the first sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was done in Africa.  However, the country has since put genome sequencing of the virus on hold. The country lacks labs with the capacity to run a Covid-19 test so the genomics labs that did the sequencing are now being used as test centers.

According to Dr Adewumi, who is currently working with one of the test labs at the University College Hospital, Ibadan, testing is currently the government’s priority and the country needs more labs to carry out tests.

To date only about 5,000 tests in Nigeria have been done compared with over 14,611 in Ghana and over 73,028 tests in South Africa.

The huge difference between the number of tests recorded for South Africa and other African countries is evidence of their superior lab capacity on the continent. The country also boasts of western and private research funding, yet only six genomes have been sequenced.

The pandemic has stretched the capacities and resources of institutions globally but these were already lacking in Africa. African countries are therefore being forced to choose between diagnosis and genome sequencing in other to cope.

They chose diagnosis.

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