By Gift Briton

With the annual productivity loss of over USD 800 billion due to the high burden of infectious diseases in Africa, experts note that exploring new models and technologies such as personalised medicine (PM) in managing disease burden on the continent is crucial.

This proposed model of treatment uses the characteristics of an individual’s gene to tailor the right therapeutic strategy for the person at the right time. It allows for more specific treatment about diseases that may not be easily treatable through general diagnosis.

In a bid to entrench PM in Africa, European Union(EU)-Africa PerMed –a partnership  project seeking to foster closer collaboration between African and the European countries in PM research and innovation- held a stakeholder workshop on 13th  and 14th  July, 2022 in Nairobi, Kenya.

The key agenda of the workshop being to discuss the PM in East Africa and convene a regional committee to identify the region’s specific needs to develop PM capacity as well as the challenges and opportunities for collaboration with Europe.

Speaking during a press briefing at the workshop, Prof. Omu Anzala, KAVI Institute of Clinical Research noted that PM is the future of medicine, whereby it involves understanding the whole issue about the individual and communities and ensuring that the treatment is not generalized but very specific in terms of diagnosing and managing patients due to differences in human genome.

Prof. Omu Anzala during a press briefing at the workshop

“The whole issue of personalised medicine is centred around cost savings so that for example, if you have to be given cancer drugs, you know clearly that the drug will work for that particular patient rather than giving these drugs haphazardly,” he said, adding that even though the initial costs of PM could be a bit high, in the long run, it would have effective impact in the public health system in general and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) associated with health care and save many lives.

“Personalised Medicine is one of the ways to address the global health problem.  It is a good thing and that is why Europe is collaborating with the African continent to share some lessons, knowledge, experiences and examples of what has been done,” Jean-Luc Sanne, Policy officer, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, European commission said.

He noted that Europe has been using PM mainly in the cancer field but it is also being used to manage cardiovascular and neurological diseases.

For Erika Sela, Senior Consultant Innovatec, Spain, collaboration is the only way to address global health issues like the world did during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In Europe we have set up an international consortium that is working together and has already prepared action plans and activities that can be shared,” Sela said noting that African countries can incorporate such kinds of platforms to share knowledge, good practices and examples of what has been done and could be implemented across Africa.

Erika Sela during the workshop

There are four main contexts involved in PM including understanding of genetic differences and how they relate to people and their interaction and responses to diseases, technology to complete DNA analysis, data on genomics which is accessible and usable compared to other established population genomic profile as well as proper infrastructure since PM relies on adequate health system infrastructure to accommodate research and implement targeted diagnosis and treatment processes.

Joyce Onsongo, Technical Advisor for World Health Organization(WHO), Kenya office noted that WHO is supporting the initiative to advance PM research and innovation in Africa adding that the workshop is a very important opportunity for the East Africa region to move into the area of using PM in matters of therapeutics, diagnostics and  treatment prevention.

This is the second regional stakeholder workshop on PM being conducted in the continent and the first physical workshop after the first online workshop conducted on 9th and 10th February, 2022.