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UK to provide genomic sequencing globally to identify COVID-19 variants

Public Health England has identified the first group of countries to receive genomic sequencing support through NVAP

The UK is set to provide genomic sequencing support to countries that lack capability and capacity to identify, assess and track new SARS-CoV-2 variant among their populations. 

Public Health England (PHE) has identified the first group of countries to receive COVID-19 genomic sequencing support as part of the New Variant Assessment Platform (NVAP).

The NVAP was developed by PHE in April 2021 and will be advanced by the new UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

The new UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) will work to protect against future health threats and will take over the COVID-19 pandemic response from Public Health England (PHE) and NHS Test and Trace.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock initially unveiled the new agency in August 2020 as the National Institute for Health Protection.

The first countries to be provided support through the NVAP include Brazil, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Although the support for each country will be tailored, it will include reagents and equipment to boost in-country sequencing, technical advice, bioinformatics support and training.

“The NVAP will provide valuable support to many international public health colleagues to strengthen their genomic sequencing capability, which in turn will make us all safer,” said Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UKHSA.

“New SARS-CoV-2 variants are a major threat and it is important to remember that in a global pandemic, no country is safe until all countries are safe,” she added.

PHE has already sequenced genomic samples from countries that have requested support – including Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Albania.

The programme is expected to be extended in the ‘coming weeks’ as PHE receives more requests for assistance, with the NVAP to offer support for countries to assess variants as they emerge.

The UK plans to collaborate with Singapore and the African Centre for Disease Control in Ethiopia.

Currently, these plans include deploying a technical advisor to Ethiopia to provide expertise and guidance on genomic sequencing strategy and policy.

The collaboration with Singapore is in the final stages, and will potentially include support for countries in the South East Asia region. This would focus on leveraging existing structures to strengthen and expand sequencing capacity across the region.

According the DHSC, the UK is estimated to contribute around 23% of all COVID-19 sequencing across the globe uploaded to GISAID.

Article by
Lucy Parsons

8th July 2021

From: Research, Healthcare

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