RECENTLY, the Quadram Institute of researchers in conjunction with scientists from Zimbabwe published findings detailing how the SARS-CoV-2 variants were introduced and transmitted in Zimbabwe when the pandemic was first reported in March 2020.
By Michael Gwarisa
The Quadram Institute is a centre for food and health research stationed in the United Kingdom (UK), combining Quadram Institute Bioscience, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals’ endoscopy centre and aspects of the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School and the Faculty of Science.
Even though Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom have had long standing partnerships in the filed of science, the two countries’ political relations somehow soured over the previous two decades. However, the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic to some extent has opened up space for the two countries to find each other in the scientific realm.
Apart from the recent study that was done by the Quadram institute of research and Zimbabwe scientists, the UK government has also been playing a pivotal role in Zimbabwe’s COVID-19 pandemic through provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and provisions of vaccines through the COVAX facility since the UK is the biggest donor to the COVAX vaccine facility.
If put to good use, science could act as a re-engagement catalyst for Zimbabwe and the international community and for Zimbabwe and United Kingdom, the fruits of scientific collaboration are already manifesting. According to Professor Ian Charles of the Quadram Institute in Norwich, the prevailing health challenges are global and require multinational action and science is uniquely well placed to develop UK’s soft power.
Science and medicine are Britain’s most valuable export. Politicians also rightly see science as a vital economic and social driver of progress and productivity and the UK’s efforts on SARS-CoV-2 vaccine development and roll out have been lauded as a shining example of medical science delivering life-saving benefits in a remarkably short timescale,” said Professor Charles.
He applauded the work by Professor Robert Kingsley of Qundram Research Institute and his team for the work they have been doing with Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) through their National Microbiology Reference Laboratory (NMRL), sequencing genetic material of positive samples from coronavirus patients, between March and June 2020.
“Key objectives for Zimbabwe’s NMRL are to help understand initial transmission of the disease, gain insight into domestic transmission of the virus, add context to the regional and global scientific data and to evaluate the role genomic sequencing could play in analysing infection outbreaks.
“As a result, Zimbabwe’s NMRL has successfully sequenced genomes to help develop what could be called a “family tree,” or phylogenetic analysis, for the virus in Zimbabwe, based on the whole genome sequencing of positive samples taken from coronavirus patients over 120 days.”
Meanwhile, a Zimbabwean NMRL Research Scientist, Tapfumanei Mashe who was also part of the research team on that worked with Quadram on the study said, “Given the longstanding relationship and partnership between Zimbabwe and the UK in terms of academic and scientific research, the Quadram Institute was ideally placed to help provide support and expertise to NMRL in Zimbabwe where necessary.”
The genomic analysis of Zimbabwe’s samples showed there were at least 26 separate independent introductions of SARS-CoV-2 into the country that were associated with 12 global lineages. The same lineages that were observed during the initial period of introduction of SARS-CoV-2 into the country later spread through the community in the first epidemic wave.
To complete the initiative, with this kind of detailed genetic detective work involved, the Ministry of Health and Child Care tasked its National Microbiology Reference Laboratory (NMRL) in Harare. Key objectives for NMRL sought to help understand initial transmission of the disease, gain insight into domestic transmission of the virus, add context to the regional and global scientific data and to evaluate the role genomic sequencing could play in analysing infection outbreak. The Quadram Institute on the Norwich Research Park, UK, as part of the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium was also undertaking genomic sequencing for the UK government.