By G9ija

Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) yesterday said that in response to public health concern over the detection of new variants of COVID-19, the severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), it has commenced work on the sequencing the virus in Nigeria.

The agency said that in the short term, a random selection of viruses would be collected and sent to the Nigeria Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) and the Africa Centre for Excellence in Genomics (ACEGID) for sequencing weekly.

A statement issued yesterday, by the Director General of the NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, said an implementation group for SARS-CoV-2 sequencing in Nigeria had been constituted to pull together a coordinated response to drive genomic surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 in Nigeria.

He disclosed that it would be coordinated by the NCDC National Reference Laboratory.
Ihekweazu said the objective of the group was to: ensure a coordinated response to identify variants of concern in Nigeria and to provide a platform for sharing of specimens and access to sequence information.

He said the goal of the research was agreed on standardised practice for the analysis of genomic data and further “provide a platform to study the impact of variants of concern on transmission, disease severity, vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.”

He added that this would ensure strong communications to maintain public confidence.
According to NCDC, scientists use a process of genomic surveillance to monitor how viruses change, including SARS-CoV-2.
It explained that Genomic surveillance required the viral genetic code of viruses to be sequenced.
Also the agency said that scientists study how these changes affect the characteristics of the virus and use this information to predict how new variants might impact health.

In December 2020, the world’s attention was drawn to a new variant, B 1.1.7, first discovered in the UK that was shown to be more transmissible. This B 1.1.7 variant is now the dominant SARS-CoV-2 variant circulating in the UK and has been documented in most countries that are implementing genomic surveillance.

While seeking to douse public anxiety over reports of prevalence of the new variant-B117 in Nigeria, Ihekweazu said the issue was not yet a threat.

He explained that viruses naturally mutate over time, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus disease.

According to him, since SARS-CoV-2 was first identified, thousands of mutations had arisen and would continue to do so, allowing new strain lineages of the virus to evolve.

“The vast majority of mutations will have little impact. But every once in a while, a virus mutates in a way that helps it survive and reproduce better than its progenitors”. he said.