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The Rockefeller Foundation Welcomes Results of the First Major African-Led SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Surveillance Effort

Statement from Dr. Rick Bright, Senior Vice President of Pandemic Prevention and Response, The Rockefeller Foundation

NEW YORK | September 10, 2021 – The Rockefeller Foundation applauds the first major African-led effort to fill the gap in genetic surveillance of Covid-19 on the continent. Yesterday the journal Science published the results of collaboration by 112 African and 25 international organizations. The data in the paper demonstrate the power of a pan-African effort to harness genomic surveillance as part of an effective response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Tulio de Oliveira and his team at Stellenbosch University provided invaluable leadership and analytics for this collaborative work. The Rockefeller Foundation’s Pandemic Prevention Institute is proud to be supporting Dr. de Oliveira and Stellenbosch University as anchors of this crucial effort to track the emergence, spread, and evolution of a virus through communities and across the continent.

The report revealed the Covid-19 outbreaks in most of the African countries where data are being analyzed, originated from Europe and diminished when travel restrictions were put in place. As the pandemic continued to evolve, increased mobility led to the emergence and spread of many virus variants of concern and interest – many of which are being transmitted across the world today and causing surges in cases, leading to increased hospitalizations and deaths.

By rapidly sharing these data with the GISAID global data science initiative, scientists from across Africa provided valuable insights for their countries and communities and for the world. Control of the Covid-19 pandemic depends on continuing to expand capabilities for genomic surveillance and related data collection and systems for swiftly sharing the information required to save lives.

With support from The Rockefeller Foundation, Dr. de Oliveira is expanding genomic surveillance capability, capacity, and tools across the continent through fellowships and workforce development programs.  To date, more than 70 researchers from across Africa have received training and support. We also provide support to the GISAID initiative which contains data from more than 3.4 million SARS-CoV-2 cases contributed by scientists from 194 countries and territories.

With rapid, representative, and high-quality information from across the globe, scientists and public health officials can better understand how people can best protect themselves from SARS-CoV-2 and determine how effective the current treatments and vaccines are against newly-identified virus variants. This type of knowledge is essential for containing and ending the pandemic, and for protecting against future pandemic threats.

This pandemic has shown the importance of fast, accurate genomic surveillance and rapid global sharing of data for controlling a disease outbreak. As recent as this past summer, only 14 countries, all of which had developed economies, were sequencing five percent or more of their confirmed cases and sharing them through global databases. This lapse in global surveillance allowed the Delta variant to spread unnoticed for many months. The Rockefeller Foundation Pandemic Prevention Institute is working closely with the WHO’s Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence and the UK’s Pandemic Radar as well as other entities to bolster this global system by scaling genomic surveillance capabilities, connecting scientists around the world, and rapidly sharing data that can support advanced analytic tools to ensure outbreaks can be tracked quickly and everyone can benefit from the knowledge learned.