Two technical experts from the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) Molecular Biology Laboratory (MBL) represented the Institute in the Virus Genomics Evolution conference held on November 9-11, 2022 at the Wellcome Genome Campus, United Kingdom.
Senior Science Research Specialist Ma. Angelica Tujan served as one of the speakers on the Epidemics and Outbreaks session during the first day of the conference.
Tujan shared insights on the establishment and implementation of genomic surveillance across the country’s public health network, and, in particular, the tracking of COVID-19 in the Philippines. All of which are direct results from the research project “Genomic Epidemiology of COVID in the Philippines” or GECO Project that the Institute has been working on in collaboration with the University of Glasgow.
“The Philippines is among the top reporting countries for COVID-19 in Southeast Asia with over three million confirmed cases and sixty thousand deaths. To help the country mitigate and control COVID-19, it is therefore essential to develop a Genomic Surveillance program,” said Tujan, emphasizing the role that genomic surveillance plays in the country’s ongoing pandemic response.
Genomic surveillance offers unique insights into the geographic spread, transmission, and evolution of the virus and its emerging variants, which have crucially informed response measures.
However, establishing a genomic surveillance platform for SARS-CoV-2 in a country like the Philippines is a major challenge with its archipelagic geography composed of over 7,000 islands, impacting logistics, transport, and delivery of services across the country. As Tujan expounded in her talk, these challenges are what the GECO Project has been working on addressing all while also strengthening the Philippine’s existing biosurveillance program.
On the other hand, Bacteriologist IV Francisco Gerardo Polotan took charge of the poster presentation featuring another research project of the Institute on genomic reconstruction which revealed how the COVID-19 pandemic spread in the Philippines.
In Asia, although the Philippines is among the contributors of SARS-CoV-2 sequence data, the contribution to epidemiological parameters of lineages driving the Philippine’s epidemic waves and their introductions from overseas are yet to be clearly explained.
As such, this study done in collaboration with the Department of Health and the Tohoku University, intended to analyze the Philippine-specific sequences downloaded from the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID) and reconstruct introduction events and determine how these shaped the local variant phylodynamics of SARS-CoV-2 from March 2020 to February 2022.
The three-day hybrid conference was attended in person by 128 delegates and 327 online delegates from 64 countries across the globe.
By Reina Manongsong, Communication and Engagement Office