Wits looks at the benefits of genomic medicine in Africa 

Academics are looking at adding a new medical discipline that could help transform Africa’s healthcare sector. 

The Wits Health sciences faculty facilitated a research lecture on genomic precision medicine to help advance the treatment of diseases on August 1, at the Wits School of public health, Parktown.  

Genomic precision medicine, an emerging field in Africa, looks at an individual’s variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle before administering treatment.  

Director of the Wits Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience, Professor Michele Ramsay and Dr June Fabian, research director at the Wits Donald Gordan Medical Centre presented a lecture on the matter titled, “Unlocking Opportunities” for genomic precision medicine in the African continent. 

Dr Fabian said that precision medicine has been pioneered in the West; and it is now a matter of Africa catching up and tailoring treatments meant for the African continent. 

Meanwhile, echoing her colleague, Ramsay added that it is important that the continent gather more data, do more research, so that the treatment can be better tailored to the African population. 

“It is necessary for us to develop our own tools; we can’t use tools that were developed for European populations because we have different variations [genomic sequencing]”, explained Ramsay.   

She added that this will help healthcare professionals in the diagnostic setting to prescribe suitable treatments for patients. 

Ramsay explained the use of genomic precision medicine will develop “African solutions for African problems”. This will be a game changer because infectious and noncommunicable diseases account for 50 to 88 percent of deaths in Africa, according to a 2022 report from the WHO.  

Dr Fabian said that more than 80 percent of clinicians recognise the value of precision medicine and how this can improve care – especially in the public healthcare sector. However, he said that its full potential has not been realised yet due to the high cost, training gap and limited access to genetic services.  

The lecture made it clear that genetic medicine is the future; and if the African continent is to benefit from it, it would require collaboration efforts from pharmaceutical companies.  

Fourth-year medical student, Amin Borda told Wits Vuvuzela that the presentation was interesting and he cannot wait for the discipline to be brought into their working environment.

FEATURED IMAGE: Dr June Fabian making her presentation during the research lecture. Photo: Sbongile Molambo

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