Researchers from Botswana as well as South Africa, who separately discovered the COVID-19 variant of the omicron were awarded the award for 2022. German Africa Award.
The virologist Sikhulile Moyo from Botswana and South African bioinformatics researcher Tulio de Oliveira have been awarded the German Africa prize for their work in identifying the COVID-19 variant of omicron.
Through their studies and notifying the variant through the World Health Organization (WHO) They “contributed substantially to greater understanding of the nature of the pandemic as well as the rapid response from the world in response,” an independent jury for the prize concluded.
Infectious diseases are a source of “not just a local, but also a global and global impacts, so it’s great that they are recognized,” said Tulio de Oliveira who is the Director of the Center for Epidemic Response and Innovation at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University, after hearing of his prize. “But in reality, we’re not looking for prizes. What we really enjoy … is doing high-level research and translating it into policies that help save lives.”
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“Wow it’s an amazing privilege,” said Zimbabwe-born Sikhulile Moyo, the laboratory’s director at the Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership which is a joint research project that is a partnership between Harvard University and Botswana’s government.
However, Moyo added, the award isn’t the accomplishment of a single person. Moyo said he was “glad to be awarded it on behalf of a lot of African scientists.”
When they were conducting routine genome sequencing PCR tests in the month of November 2021, Moyo and his team from the lab at Botswana’s capital Gaborone observed several COVID-19 specimens which had unique patterns of multi-mutation.
They then published their findings on the open source database.
Within the same period of time in the same time frame, it was reported that the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa (NGS-SA), led by de Oliveira, noticed a rise in the South African Gauteng Province, which encompasses Johannesburg, the nation’s main economic center. Johannesburg.
They quickly analyzed over 100 samples from Gauteng in the hope of identifying the same virus mutation as in Botswana.
This caused de Oliveira to alert South African authorities as well as the WHO about the sudden appearance of the variant, which a few days later was named Omicron and referred to as a variant of worry.
Death threats to scientists
However, instead of acknowledging the scientific accomplishments that were made by Moyo as well de Oliveira and their teams in southern Africa and swiftly alerting the world community of the latest variant, countries all over the world responded with terror.
Numerous countries, as well as the European Union, imposed strict travel bans between southern and northern Africa.
Each of Moyo as well as de Oliveira were seen by many as personally accountable in the travel bans and the resulting economic difficulties, and were targets.
“We received numerous threats to kill us. We were forced to set up an armed security guard at the entrance of the university to allow us to continue what we do,” said de Oliveira in a DW interview earlier in the year.
However, both scientists continue their “excellent work unabated” according to the German Africa Foundation (DAS) who has been giving its German Africa Award since 1993 the announcement.
“Professor Tulio de Oliveira and Dr Sikhulile Moyo have been shining examples of excellence of integrity, courage and integrity,” DAS said.
“They demonstrate … They are proving that the best medical research is also the heart of Africa and that Africa is able to manage crises successfully of the global pandemic which Europe can and should take lessons from.”
In the case of the virologist Moyo He hopes that this award will help strengthen the determination of African scientists who have “very very little funds” to carry on their research.
“The amount of resources that we have when compared with what the majority of Europe used to have, is tiny drops into the sea,” he said.
The German Africa Award will be presented in Berlin on the 25th of November 2022.
Information about the award recipients:
Sikhulile is the lab director of the Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership, the most renowned national research institute for HIV/AIDS training, capacity building and training in Botswana. The Zimbabwean-born doctor is also an associate research scientist with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
With a focus on the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Moyo has been able to make a number of important contributions to the research of prevention of the transmission of the virus from mother to child HIV. He is in charge of the monitoring of HIV prevalence and conducted studies into HIV mutations linked to resistance to drugs. It was also due to this research that his lab was able perform real-time genome sequencing in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tulio de Oliveira is Director of the Center for Epidemic Response and Innovation at Stellenbosch University, director and co-founder of the Kwazulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP) and the director of the Network for Genomics Surveillance in South Africa.
He was born and raised in Brazil, de Oliveira went to university in South Africa where he has been since. Bioinformatician, de Oliveira is one of the country’s top researchers, representing the face of South African excellence in his area of expertise in a variety of capacities, such as an instructor in bioinformatics for the School for Data Science and Computational Thinking at Stellenbosch University and lecturer at the College of Health Science at the University of KwaZulu Natal.