MASERU – Lesotho is yet to identify the COVID-19 variant(s) that the country is dealing with, Public Eye has learnt. Genomic sequencing will only be conducted in the coming weeks whereby a few samples will be sent to neighbouring South Africa for testing. This is a process of determining the order of chemical bases of a DNA molecule.
Scientists use sequences to identify genes, regulatory instructions, or in the case of COVID-19, mutations to the virus. It is said that continued genome sequencing supports the monitoring of the disease’s spread and evolution of the virus.
However, the Country’s COVID-19 response body, National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) says the country has not been doing the sequencing and is therefore uncertain about variant(s) that the country may be dealing with.
NACOSEC’s Deputy CEO-Core Operations, Dr Catherine Liphoto, said because of the Lesotho’s geographic location and social interactions with the neighbouring republic, it is believed that what is happening is in the neighbouring country is not very different to what Lesotho is experiencing.
She was responding to questions by Public Eye on what the Coronavirus variants have been detected in the country and the plan to bring Covid vaccine in the country. Lephoto said the exercise (genomic sequencing) is costly and that the country has had to balance costs associated with Covid testing.
“The country has not been able not do genomic sequencing mainly due to the fact that it is a very costly process, we have had to balance the cost but the coming weeks will see us send samples to SA for genomic sequencing,” Liphoto said.
She explained that it has become necessary to do the sequencing owing to a number of variants detected in different countries. She said the first samples will be sent to a South African laboratory in the coming weeks.
The Coronavirus variants have particularly become crucial after a South African study found that the Oxford- AstraZeneca vaccine is less effective against the variant first detected in South Africa.
The neighbouring country even had to suspend its vaccination rollout and will now use a different vaccine- Johnson and Johnson. Lesotho on the other hand, is expected to receive the first batch of vaccines in April from the Covax facility.
Covax is an initiative by World Health Organization (WHO) to supply poorer countries with fully subsidized vaccines. The vaccines will only cover 20 percent of the population with government expected to procure vaccines for the rest of the population.
Lesotho recorded the first COVID-19 case in May last year. Since then, cases increased exponentially with the infection rate being among the highest in the region. In a population of just over 2 million, the country has reported 9 804 cases with just 2 888 of those having recovered from the virus.
African Union has recommended countries that have not reported the variant first reported in South Africa to go ahead and use the AsraZeneca vaccine while those that have reported the variant are advised to use other approved vaccines.
The WHO has also called on African countries to “build and boost” genomic surveillance and has asked countries to ship at least 20 samples per month to sequencing laboratories.