THIS is with reference to the article ‘Science: tracking the changing Covid-19’ (May 16). It is imperative for the government to seek foreign assistance — most probably from China — for the establishment of a properly-equipped, full-scale virology laboratory at some state-run institution, like, for instance, the University of Karachi. It should be managed by a board of researchers comprising virology experts from both the countries.

This board can undertake the task of not only training the virology laboratory staff, but also to ensure proper utilisation of resources to equip the proposed laboratory for undertaking the task of genomic surveillance.

The genome sequencing of the samples obtained from pandemic clusters of high infection areas in various cities, especially of the Covid-19 SARS Cov-2 virus, is critical, but the cost of the assignment is a massive hurdle.

The non-availability of our genomic data related to SARS Cov-2 in the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID) database as well as the database of the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) is mainly due to paucity of resources even though we have manpower — both of the trained and untrained varieties — and expertise in virology available in all the three institutions designated for genome sequencing — the University of Karachi, the National Institute of Health and the Aga Khan University.

If, say, four to five laboratories are available, the proposed board of research on virology can assess the potential of each of them, and get help for the remaining from abroad through the government. It will boost the surveillance work in this regard and will help us share our data with GISAID and NCBI for our own benefit and that of the global population.

The other aspect is the ability of the three designated laboratories to develop vaccines against infectious diseases. This also needs attention.

Some of our virology experts working in national institutions, including the ones named above, are striving on their own to move ahead in that direction, but the non-availability of resources — financial as well as human — is a hurdle they are unable to cross.

Prof (Dr) Muhammad Abdul Azeem
Karachi

Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2021

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