African researchers lead scientific coalition for detecting pandemics in real-time

The first genomics research lab in Nigeria, ACEGID have begun a partnership with the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and other research and public health partners, to implement the Sentinel project, that aims to develop an early warning system in Africa.

Led by Christian Happi and Pardis Sabeti – both researchers who have been studying infectious diseases together for two decades –  the project aims to combine genomics with new information technologies in the detection and response to emerging viral threats in real-time. 

Christian Happi

The project was conceived long before COVID-19, but its relevance has become more significant in the face of this fast-spreading pandemic. “We have seen communities of researchers and healthcare workers come together in extraordinary ways to fight COVID-19. Sentinel is, and will continue to be, a powerful example of this,” says Christian Happi. Nigerian-born, he is Director at ACEGID and Professor of Molecular Biology and Genomics at the Redeemer’s University, Nigeria.

“This pandemic has shown us how unprepared we are everywhere in the world for a crisis of this magnitude. But while it’s clear that we are all very much behind the curve, this pandemic will hopefully prompt government leaders to take up new tools and technologies to combat COVID-19, and to prepare for future outbreaks,” said Pardis Sabeti. She is a Member of  Broad Institute, Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University and Professor at the Department of Immunology and Infectious Disease at Harvard Chan School of Public Health.

“The potential of Sentinel to transform infectious disease surveillance in Africa is boundless, and its mission complements that of Africa CDC: to strengthen surveillance and emergency response and improve management of public health threats of regional and international consequence,” says John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa CDC. 

Pardis Sabeti

“The opportunity to use advanced genomics and the analytical infrastructure to support the diagnostic potential for patients and populations provides an exciting opportunity for countries and the continent,” says Chikwe Ihekwuazu, Director-General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control. 

Diseases such as chickenpox, yellow fever, ebola, zika and Lassa fever will also be monitored by the project. “Each of us can be a sentinel by engaging with the healthcare system to uncover what is making us sick, and in the process warn our communities,” ends Sabeti.

+ Based in Ede, Nigeria, the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases was one of the first organizations to respond to the 2014 appearance of Ebola in its country. Since them, ACEGID is leading an effort to stop future epidemics in the African continent even more quickly and effectively.