The dissemination workshop of Epidemic Intelligence consortium project, jointly funded by Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office and Wellcome Trust, was organized in Kathmandu on 15th March 2023, with the participation of government and non-government stakeholders from the ministry of health and population and project districts, consortium partners, civil society organizations and BNMT team members. In the program, project overview, achievements, challenges and recommendations of the project along with the findings of the COVID19 sequencing were shared among audiences by BNMT Executive Director Raghu Dhital, Principal Investigator Dr Maxine Caws, and research team members of partner organization Center for Molecular Dynamics-Nepal, Laboratory Manager and molecular genetics researcher, Rajindra Napit and Bioinformatics Specialist, Prajwol Manandhar.
The project conducted large scale pathogen sequencing in Nepal, successfully collecting and sequencing 1900 samples from three locations spanning Nepal: Bheri Hospital in Nepalgunj (Far West), Koshi Hospital, Biratnagar (Eastern Nepal), and Sukraraj Tropical Infectious Diseases Hospital in the capital city, Kathmandu (central region). Moreover, we followed up the participants at three and six months to understand the frequency and symptoms of long-term complications of COVID-19 illness (known as Long COVID) in the patients. The key findings of the project showed that Nepal had experienced three major waves of COVID-19. The first was caused by Beta variant, the second by Delta, the third by Delta and Omicron co-circulating. Tracking of COVID-19 variants showed successive waves caused by different variants, with multiple omicron sub-variants now circulating in Nepal. Similarly, the evaluation of cohort for long COVID showed diabetes and hypertension were strong risk factors.
The project significantly accelerated the genomics capacity for infectious diseases in Nepal, also supporting capacity development in laboratories trying to build sequencing skills base. It established a sequencing professionals network for Nepali scientists and delivered a bioinformatics training course for labs across Nepal with University of Melbourne.
The project was well appreciated by the stakeholders as a big achievement in molecular research and an innovative consortium model in COVID19 research that would inform future genomics study in Nepal addressing other infectious diseases including dengue, tuberculosis and antimicrobial resistance.