A Wits delegation from AWI-Gen (Africa, Wits-INDEPTH Partnership for GENomic studies) attended the sixth H3Africa Consortium meeting held from 8-11 May in Livingstone, Zambia. Led by Prof Michele Ramsay and Prof Osman Sankoh from INDEPTH. AWI-Gen is a Wits-INDEPTH Collaborative Centre under the umbrella of the Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) Consortium and aims to study genetic and environmental contributions to susceptibility to cardiometabolic diseases in four African countries (South Africa, Kenya, Ghana and Burkina Faso).
H3 Africa is the first research initiative to have attracted joint funding from both the Wellcome Trust (UK) and the National Institutes of Health (USA). The initiative aims to ‘facilitate a contemporary research approach to the study of genomics and environmental determinants of common diseases with the goal of improving the health of African populations. To accomplish this, the H3Africa Initiative aims to contribute to the development of the necessary expertise among African scientists, and to establish networks of African investigators’ http://h3africa.org.
Apart from thoroughly enjoying the conference venue (you could hear Victoria Falls from your bedroom and watch the mosi-oi-tunya, the smoke that thunders, over breakfast), the conference was inspiring. Delegates from nearly all African countries involved in H3Africa attended, and it was clear that being part of AWI-Gen, and thus part of H3Africa, puts Wits right at the forefront in the development of capacity for genomic studies in Africa.
Highlights included Dr Ernest Tambo presenting an update on the Wits AWI-Gen study (involving the SBIMB, Wits Bioinformatics, DPHRU, the MRC/Wits Agincourt Unit, School of Pathology (Human Genetics and Chemical Pathology) and School of Electrical Engineering), and our many African partners in the INDEPTH network). A one day workshop was held where about 50 delegates from Research Ethics Committees across Africa discussed the ethics of broad consent (for the sharing and use of data and samples for future research) and biobanking with H3Africa researchers. This one-day workshop followed on from a similar workshop last year, and one participant commented that the Ethics Working Group of H3Africa is ‘changing culture, one step at the time’. Venesa Pillay, a PhD student from Wits, won a prize for her poster presented as a fellow of the H3Africa network.