WACCBIP Holds Fifth Research Conference, Sharing Lessons from The Pandemic (July 21-23, 2021)

The West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP) has held its fifth Annual Research Conference at the WACCBIP Conference Hall, University of Ghana. The three-day conference, which was held from July 21-23, 2021 was under the theme “Building Sustainable Research Capacity in Africa: Lessons from the Pandemic”.

This year’s conference provided a valuable opportunity to create direct pathways for the young scientists trained at the Centre to connect with world-renowned scientists and industry professionals. It also gave trainees the opportunity to showcase their expertise in new scientific knowledge and novel applications of technology to better inform public health interventions as well as leading to the development of new disease diagnostic tools, drugs, and vaccines especially within the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic. Global research leaders, including Professor Francisca Mutapi, Co-Director for Global Health Academy  and Deputy Director of Tackling Infections to Benefit Africa (TIBA) partnership, University of Edinburgh; Professor Julian Rayner, Director of Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, University of Cambridge; and Professor Christian Happi, Director of African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID), Redeemers University, presented keynote addresses  to both in-person and virtual participants numbering over 350.

Also present at the event were high profile local and international dignitaries drawn from academia and the policy environment including Professor Felix Asante, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Development, University of Ghana; Professor, Abraham Kwabena Anang, Director of the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR), University of Ghana; Professor Eric Danquah, Director of the West African Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI), University of Ghana and Professor Gordon Awandare, Director of WACCBIP. Others include Professor Tom Kariuki, Director of Programmes at The African Academy of Sciences (The AAS); Emeritus Professor Samuel Sefa-Dedeh, President of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences (GAAS); Ms. Himdat Bayusuf, Task Team Leader of the Africa Centers of Excellence in Higher Education (ACE) Project; Dr. Ahmed Jinapor,  Deputy Director General of the Ghana Tertiary Education Commission (GTEC); and Dr. Anthony Nsiah Asare, Presidential Adviser on Health; all of whom gave their remarks.

Prof. Felix Asante, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research Innovation and Development at the University of Ghana and who also chaired the opening session, highlighted the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has put the spotlight of relevance on WACBBIP both in academia and national development. He stressed the point that it was important for WACCBIP to be applauded for taking a central role during the most challenging times in the national response towards containment and combatting the pandemic. He added that WACCBIP’s response in the fight against COVID-19 is a perfect demonstration of the Centre’s contribution towards making the University of Ghana a World Class. University.

“WACCBIP’s research is significant to the current COVID-19 pandemic in Ghana. This research has provided key information on the current COVID-19 pandemic in Ghana, a better-informed public health intervention including infections control measures and vaccine recordings.  With this achievement, WACCBIP has helped the University gain its research-intensive”

He went on to encourage the Centre to share its success story with other centres of excellence of the University.

Officially opening the conference, Dr Anthony Nsiah-Asare, the Presidential Adviser on Health, acknowledged the significance of WACCBIP’s research  in  the fight against COVID-19.  He expressed satisfaction with the level of research conducted at WACCBIP, which, he said, is directed at specific local needs and has provided key information on the current COVID-19 pandemic in Ghana, with a better-informed public health response and intervention strategy.

“I am very happy to be invited this morning especially at this time the whole country is fighting COVID-19. Through WACCBIP, Ghana has been able to pinpoint the different variants that have been coming into the country.”  He went ahead to further state that “The President has formed a committee to make sure that Ghana becomes a vaccine production country. We hope that together with the private sector, we will be able to do it and do it as quickly as possible to enable the country to come out of this pandemic. Covid-19 has taught us a lesson and what we have learnt from it is that we have to be self-sufficient as a country.”

Dr Nsiah Asare was optimistic that Africa is capable of manufacturing most of its vaccine and that Scientists can achieve that with the needed support.

«We want to make sure that what the African Union has said that by the year 2040, we should be able to manufacture about 40% of all our vaccines. We believe strongly that we have the men, the women and the Scientists and we can achieve it. »

Senior Research Fellows as well as PhD and Master’s fellows of the Centre took turns to present on their current research works to a global audience. Dr. Peter Quashie, an Immunologist, and a Senior Research fellow at WACCBIP spoke about his work on COVID-19. Speaking on the topic, “A chronology of COVID-19 in Ghana: What the science tells us.”, he shared some important findings from WACCBIP’s COVID-19 data collection process under the seroprevalence study which aims to estimate, using serological analysis, the patterns in the distribution and changes over time in the outbreak of the disease within the Ghanaian population. He explained that the process was necessary for tracking the community spread of the virus and tracing infections across the country.

Other speakers and fellows presented cutting-edge research on topics in a diverse range of biomedical science fields including cell biology, drug resistance and discovery, vaccine discovery and development, human genetics, and public engagement. Collaborators from top universities led plenary sessions and presented data on research into diseases such as COVID-19. Invited scientists and WACCBIP fellows presented their research findings on infectious and non-communicable diseases including malaria, Buruli ulcer, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, cancers, sickle cell disease, hypertension, diabetes, and SARS-CoV-2.

This year’s conference received support from a number of sponsors including Inqaba Biotec West Africa Limited, Carramore International Limited, MES Equipment Limited, Agilent Technologies, DCL, MDS-Lancet, Bany Laboratories and Supplies, Arcoa Ghana, Cleanearth Scientific, YEMAACHI Biotechnology, YEBED, Satguru Travels, Resolve Systems Limited, Lab Companion, and Special Ice.

Participants at the conference were impressed with the level of organisation and standard of the presentations. Mr Jonathan Suubar, a master’s fellow at WACCBIP, who also won the best oral presentation (Masters Category) at the conference was excited by the quality of the research presented and the flexibility in terms of attending a conference in an era of a pandemic.“It is not only unique, but it presented the opportunity for us to participate with some flexibility. Although a lot of us participated in person, we have the choice of going back to listen to the talks if we missed something. It is all available on Facebook or YouTube. That made the conference unique,”  Mr Suubar said.

« Looking at the varied quality of presentation that we made, we had a lot of students who presented so much research from viruses to bacteria, to parasites to public engagements. This is just the fifth conference and by the time we get to the tenth conference, I am sure we will be making groundbreaking discoveries by scientists in Africa. The future of the WACCBIP conference is going to be bright.  »

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