Botswana, S/African scientists recognised for COVID research

APA-Gaborone (Botswana)

Two scientists in Botswana and South Africa have won the 2022 German Africa Award for their role in identifying the deadly COVID-19 Omicron variant that caused a worldwide stir at the end of 2021.

Zimbabwe-born virologist Sikhulile Moyo, a lab director at the Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership, and Network for Genomics Surveillance in South Africa (NGS-SA) head Tulio de Oliveira would be honoured by the German Africa Foundation (DAS) on November 25 for their "excellent work". 

Moyo and his team were the first to notice a spike in COVID-19 samples with a new and unusual pattern of multiple mutations in Botswana in November 2021.

They immediately shared their findings on an open-source database.

At almost the same time, the NGS-SA made a similar discovery following an increase in infections in South Africa's Gauteng province.

This led de Oliveira to alert South African authorities and the World Health Organisation about the suddenly emerging variant, which was subsequently named Omicron and triggered a global ban on travel to southern African countries.

DAS on Tuesday described de Oliveira and Moyo as “a shining example of expertise, integrity and courage."

"They prove ... that top medical research is also at home in Africa and that the continent has successful crisis management in the global pandemic from which Europe can and should learn."

The scientists said they allegedly received death threats as some people felt they were personally responsible for the travel restrictions and resulting economic woes across the world.

De Oliveira told journalists earlier this year that they “had to put armed security in front of the university so we could carry on our work” following the death threats.

The award ceremony is expected to take place in Berlin.


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