The Collaborative African Genomics Network (CAfGEN), a Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) Initiate consortium project has just been started to conduct a three-year genomic study in Uganda, Botswana and Swaziland.
The project focuses on the genetic traits of (DNA) and HIV and TB progression among children, to establish if their genes are responsible for the rapid or slow progress of the two diseases.
“This study will help us understand why HIV may quickly progress to AIDS among some children, and not others. This will enable us to offer personalized treatment according to their genes,” said Dr Sabrina Kitaka, a paediatrician and adolescent health specialist.
The Botswana-Baylor Children’s Clinical Centre of Excellence and the University of Botswana have recently received a grant from the NIH and the Wellcome Trust to conduct the genomics study.
“We are working closely with Makerere University to ensure that we as African scientists embrace genomics to improve the health problems on our continent,” said Prof Gabriel Anabwami from The University of Botswana.
Speaking at a meeting held recently at the Protea hotel in Kampala, Anabwami said that genomics will greatly impact Africa’s health issues in an era where majority of the people on the continent suffer a disproportionate burden of avoidable illnesses.
Genomics, Anabwami said, would be used to understand disease, refine diagnosis, predict drug effects and to individualize clinical care, among others. A specialised chip tailored to the African genome is in the pipeline, according to the experts.
“Africa is the most diverse continent as far as genetics are concerned and an African chip will be a very important tool in studying diseases like HIV and TB,” said Dr Misaki Wayengera, a lecturer at the Makerere University’s college of Health Sciences.
According to Wayengera, the university is set to start courses in genomics early next year: “The curriculum has been developed; we are in the process of having it approved.”
As the first project on genomics project to be conducted in the three countries, understanding, engagement, and communication are critical.