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Nigeria’s scientist who first analysed COVID-19 virus in Africa makes WHO advisor list

Christian Happi, a scientist leading cutting-edge research of disease in Nigeria has been shortlisted as an advisor for the proposed new Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of novel pathogens (SAGO) under the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The professor and director at the African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Disease (ACEGID), Redeemer’s University, Ede, Nigeria will join 25 other members of the group in advising WHO, if finally selected.

The group is expected to guide WHO on the development of a global framework to define and guide studies into the origins of emerging and re-emerging disease with epidemic and pandemic potential, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

Equally selected from Nigeria is Chinwe Ochu, an associate professorial fellow at the Center of Excellence for Migration & Global Studies at the National Open University of Nigeria.

When Nigeria recorded its first suspected case of coronavirus in February 2020, Happi initiated a scientific investigation that used the technology of genome sequencing to reveal the genetic makeup of the virus, mapped the details in 72 hours.

That investigation was the first genome sequence of SARS-CoV-2 from Africa.

Read Also: Nigeria’s ‘most promising’ vaccine could cost more than Pfizer, AstraZeneca’s

The timeframe was the fastest in the world, compared to what was carried out in China and some European countries as of March 3, 2020.

Genome sequencing is considered the most important factor in understanding how new diseases behave and how a vaccine can be developed.

The feat moved Nigeria several steps ahead in using genomics as means to addresses infectious disease and was reported widely in international science journals.

The Havard professor of Molecular Biology and Genomics is also part of a project that aims to sequence enough genomes across Africa to build a representative human reference genome and establish a pan-African biobank of clinical information and samples.

The Three Million African Genomes (3MAG) will build capacity on the continent — in genomics research and its applications, and governance.

The 26 proposed SAGO members, selected from more than 700 applications have expertise in a range of areas including epidemiology, animal health, ecology, clinical medicine, virology, genomics, molecular epidemiology, molecular biology, biology, food safety, biosafety, biosecurity, and public health.

According to WHO, the composition of the SAGO reflects geographic and gender diversity.

After a two-week public consultation period for WHO to receive feedback on the proposed SAGO members and modalities set in place for the SAGO’s first meeting, the final membership will be announced.

When BusinessDay was contacted, Happi refused to make comments, saying he couldn’t speak on it until after two weeks when he has an official letter.

“Right now it’s a proposal. I can’t talk about it,” Happi told BusinessDay.

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