Public Health England (PHE) has today announced the first group of countries who will receive genomic sequencing support through the New Variant Assessment Platform (NVAP).
The NVAP was announced in January by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) as a means for the UK to offer support to countries that lack the capability and capacity to effectively identify, assess and track new SARS-CoV-2 variants among their population.
The platform was developed by PHE in April and will be taken forward by the new UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). It will enable the UK’s unique sequencing and variant assessment capabilities to support other countries’ response to coronavirus (COVID-19), strengthening global health security and protecting people here and abroad.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said:
Since the beginning of the pandemic, around a third of all SARS-CoV-2 sequences submitted to the international GISAID database have been from the UK – we are the second largest contributor globally.
The first countries to benefit from this support and expertise will be Brazil, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, and Pakistan.
The support for each country is bespoke, but includes reagents and equipment to increase in-country sequencing, technical advice, bioinformatics support, and training.
Plans are also in development for the UK to collaborate with both the African Centre for Disease Control in Ethiopia, and Singapore.
A technical advisor will be deployed to Ethiopia to provide expertise and guidance on genomic sequencing strategy and policy across the continent.
The collaboration being developed with Singapore is still being finalised, but potential areas include supporting countries in the South East Asia region, with scientific expertise and technical advice on bioinformatics and variant analysis. The focus would be on leveraging existing structures to strengthen and expand sequencing capacity across the region.
Additional countries will receive support as the programme continues.
Dr Isabel Oliver, Director of the PHE National infection Service, said:
Dr Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of the UKHSA, said:
PHE has already sequenced samples from a number of countries who have requested support including Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Albania, and this programme will be extended in the coming weeks as we receive more requests for assistance.
The NVAP will also support countries to assess variants as they emerge, to better understand their characteristics and enable public health actions to be implemented.
Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid said: