Molecular epidemiology and diversity of SARS-CoV-2 in Ethiopia, 2020–2022

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Ethiopia is the second most populous country in Africa and the sixth most affected by COVID-19 on the continent. Despite having experienced five infection waves, over 499,000 cases, and approximately 7500 COVID-19-related deaths as of January 2023, there is still no detailed genomic epidemiological report on the introduction and spread of SARS-CoV-2 in Ethiopia.

Therefore, in this study, published in Genes (Mar 2023), researchers reconstructed and elucidated the COVID-19 epidemic dynamics.

Specifically, they investigated the introduction, local transmission, ongoing evolution, and spread of SARS-CoV-2 during the first four infection waves using 353 high-quality near-whole genomes sampled in Ethiopia.

The results show that whereas viral introductions seeded the first wave, subsequent waves were seeded by local transmission.

The B.1.480 lineage emerged in the first wave and notably remained in circulation even after the emergence of the Alpha variant. The B.1.480 was outcompeted by the Delta variant.

Notably, Ethiopia’s lack of local sequencing capacity was further limited by sporadic, uneven, and insufficient sampling that limited the incorporation of genomic epidemiology in the epidemic public health response in Ethiopia.

These results highlight Ethiopia’s role in SARS-CoV-2 dissemination and the urgent need for balanced, near-real-time genomic sequencing.

The study was carried out by scientists affiliated to the following institutions: Addis Ababa University, Stellenbosch University, Center for Innovative Drug Development and Therapeutic Trials for Africa, the African Union, the International Livestock Research Institute, Wellcome Centre for Infectious Diseases Research in Africa, University of Cape Town, University of KwaZulu-Natal and University of Washington.

Sisay, A., Tshiabuila, D., Wyk, S. van, Tesfaye, A., Mboowa, G., Oyola, S.O., Tesema, S.K., Baxter, C., Martin, D., Lessells, R., Tegally, H., Moir, M., Giandhari, J., Pillay, S., Singh, L., Ramphal, Y., Maharaj, A., Pillay, Y., Maharaj, A., Naidoo, Y., Ramphal, U., Chabuka, L., Wilkinson, E., Oliveira, T. de, Desta, A.F. and San, J.E. 2023. Molecular epidemiology and diversity of SARS-CoV-2 in Ethiopia, 2020–2022. Genes 14(3): 705.

Photo credit: A 3D print of a SARS-CoV-2 virus particle, which causes COVID-19 (National Institutes of Health).

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