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WHO AND USM STRENGTHENING COLLABORATION TO FURTHER INCREASE SARS-COV-2 GENOME SEQUENCING CAPACITY

USM KUBANG KERIAN, KELANTAN, MALAYSIA, 27 June 2022 – Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) hosted a working visit by the World Health Organisation (WHO) representative to Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Singapore, Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe.

During the half-day visit at the USM Health Campus here, USM, WHO and the State Ministry of Health officials held a collaborative discussion to further strengthen the genome sequencing capacity. 

Earlier in December 2021, WHO and the European Union (EU) funded the state-of-the-art whole genome sequencing (WGS) facilities to the Medical Microbiology and Parasitology Laboratory of Hospital USM under the Southeast Asia COVID-19 Response and Readiness Programme. 

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The Vice-Chancellor of USM, Professor Dato' Dr. Faisal Rafiq Mahamd Adikan said, "With the technical cooperation from WHO and financial support from the EU, the WGS testing capacity in Hospital USM’s lab had since recorded an increasing figure.  It contributes to a better understanding of the variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus spread in the state of Kelantan in particular and the rest of Malaysia in general. 

"The SARS-CoV-2 virus is an identified cause of COVID-19 disease. Genome sequencing is therefore important for tracking the genetic evolution of its variants, monitoring the spread of the disease and developing diagnostic tests, new vaccine candidates as well as other tools to respond to the disease. 

"Therefore, having the laboratory capacity to carry out whole genome sequencing (WGS) is timely as a measure to help and prepare the country to deal with possible future outbreaks," he said. 
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According to Faisal Rafiq, with technical support from WHO and funding from the EU, the Hospital USM Medical Microbiology and Parasitology Laboratory has become one of the WGS reference laboratories in Malaysia. 

"Hospital USM Medical Microbiology and Parasitology Laboratory is capable to carry out a fast and accurate sequencing using the newly supplied 'Oxford Nanopure Technology' WGS equipment funded by WHO.

"As a result, we will be able to share the genome sequence data of the identified virus variants in Malaysia as well as contribute to global surveillance through GISAID Database, and to the development of diagnostic tests and the production of vaccines too. 

"We are pleased to be part of this programme with WHO to promote a further understanding of an unknown enemy: SARS-CoV-2," he added.

He also said that USM may also get an opportunity to enrich the database in the future, as well as participate more actively in the development of vaccines and improving the quality care of COVID-19 patients.

Faisal Rafiq also hopes that this cooperation will develop further, especially in other areas related to health. 

The collaboration discussion to strengthen genome sequencing capacity today also took into account the views of all stakeholders including representatives of the Kelantan State Health Department (JKNK) who were also invited to participate in the discussion.

Meanwhile, the WHO representative to Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Singapore, Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, said "Although Malaysia and other countries are currently moving towards an endemic phase transition, everyone should be aware that COVID-19 is still and remains everywhere around us.” 

"The country may see a rebound in cases due to the emergence of new variants and also due to poor adherence to standard operating procedures (SOPs). 

"We must continue our efforts in strengthening our preparedness and response capacity to help the country to be well prepared at all times to protect lives and minimise economic fallout," he said.

Text: Amyrulhan Azhari & Nik Sheila Erinie Che Mat Kamel/Photo: UKAST Photography Unit

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