Nigerian Heroes Of COVID-19 (7)

Prof. Christian Happi is the Director of African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID).

ACEGID has been very strategically placed and instrumental in Nigeria’s fight against COVID-19 and other previous infectious diseases.

Prof. Happi’s laboratory was the first to discover a Coronavirus case in the country, as announced by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) on the 27th of February.

A researcher of great repute, he has worked with different countries in battling parasitic, microbial diseases and viral Haemorrhagic fevers (VHFs).

He is a researcher at the Redeemer’s University, Ede, Osun State where alongside his team of young, passionate researchers, he has been able to help Nigeria’s quest in making the fight against the pandemic more local.

In 2014, Prof. Happi discovered Nigeria’s very first case of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), and his role in containing the disease was no small feat in the country and in the SubSaharan subregion. Barely six years later, he was also at the forefront in the discovery of a wild and raging pandemic that has locked nations down and hit world economies fiercely.

“Since Nigeria confirmed its first case of the disease on 27 February, my team and I have been working in staggered shifts in my laboratory. We receive human-tissue samples from states in Nigeria, and then test them for traces of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the disease. We use a technique called polymerase chain reaction, which enables us to detect specific genetic material from the coronavirus if it is present.

“On 1 March, I drove 90 kilometres from my lab to the airport in Ibadan, to receive clinical specimens of the coronavirus from the first person in Nigeria known to have contracted COVID-19. I confirmed the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in those specimens, and my team and I sequenced the virus’s genome within 72 hours — an incredible feat. Here, I’m standing beside one of the two sequencing platforms in my lab.

“We are now sequencing more coronavirus genomes and developing a rapid molecular diagnostic test that uses CRISPR gene-editing technology to detect SARS-COV-2. We hope to move this work to remote areas in Africa soon. The government considers our work essential, and my team and I all have passes to get into the lab during the lockdown.

People might have thought that this work was impossible in Africa, but we are demonstrating that the continent’s scientists can generate crucial data in the global fight against COVID-19 — as well as contributing to the field of genomics. I feel inspired to be a part of this new narrative.”

Dr. Christian Happi (AFP)

Professor Happi, born in Cameroon, is a graduate of the University of Yaounde, at the Capital city of the central African nation. He graduated with a B.Sc in Biochemistry from the university in 1993.

In 1995, he went on to obtain his M.Sc in Molecular Parasitology from the University of Ibadan before obtaining a P.hD in 2000 in the same university.

He did his post-doctoral research in Molecular Biology and Genomics at the Harvard University, School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA between 2000 and 2003.

He is currently the Director, Directorate of Research Innovations and Partnerships (DRIPs), Redeemer’s University.

Prof. Happi’s research interest is focused on Human Genomics, Molecular Biology and Genomics of Infectious Diseases, especially Malaria, Viral Haemorrhagic Fevers (Lassa fever, Ebola Virus Disease, and others), and HIV.

His research activities consist of using innovative approaches that combines patient care, fieldwork, laboratory, molecular biology and genomics methods for discoveries that have shifted the paradigm in clinical research and applications in parasites and viral diagnosis, parasites biology and genomics, Pharmacogenomics, and human genomics.

He describes his passion as building research capacity and human resource through training and mentoring activities.

Through Prof. Happi’s research, there has been an identification of molecular markers of antimalarial drug resistance in Plasmodium falciparum, the causative agent of malaria.

He has also recently discovered new viruses (EKV-1 and EKV-2, and developed new rapid diagnoses for Ebola virus disease (EVD), and Lassa fever virus.

Through research work in his laboratory, he has contributed significantly to the establishment of the global reference for human genetic variation. His research work has also resulted in identification of new genes associated with human resistance to infection to Lassa fever virus.

Prof. Happi has won multitudes of awards for his leadership and contributions to the field of genomics and infectious diseases especially in relation to the work done in Redeemer’s University by ACEGID in averting not only would-be national disasters but also, international epidemics.

He is a visiting professor to Harvard University, and some of his awards are; Best Researcher Award by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (CVC); US Department of Defense Award for Severe Infectious Diseases Surveillance in West Africa; National Universities Commission (NUC) Award for the Best Nigerian Academic Researcher in the field of Life Sciences and Medicine; Exxon-Mobil Corp. USA, Harvard University Malaria Leadership Fellowship Award; 2011, Merle A. Sande Health Leadership Award (Accordia Foundation USA); Burroughs Wellcome and Bill & Melinda Gates Awards (USA) to mention a few.

Prof. Happi serves on the board of several top international societies and committees and is also an editorial board member and reviewer for several internationally peer reviewed journals. He doubles as the Director, Directorate of Research, Innovations and Partnerships (DRIPs) in Redeemer’s University; Chair, Scientific Advisory Committee Africa Health Research Organization (AHRO) Ghana and Senior Associate Member, The Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

On his battle against COVID-19, he said the work of his team and his group of researchers is in detecting and characterizing pathogens, “so that we can identify the aetiology of previously inexplicable fevers in west Africa. The coronavirus pandemic fits neatly into the scope of my work, and our priority has shifted to COVID-19.”

For helping to lead a scientific approach to a rare disease that has taken the world off its standing, we are proud to project Prof. Christian Happi as our #ALEDEHCOVID-19Hero of the week.

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