Genomic Sequencing for the First Time in Honduras
By Bufete Mejia & Asociados
In the wake of the pandemic, in 2020 Microbiologist Soany Avilez began working at the National Virology Laboratory performing PCR tests for COVID-19 diagnosis. At that time, genomic sequencing to detect variants of the virus was only being performed outside the country. However, a project to provide Honduras and other countries in the region with the capabilities to sequence in situ and obtain quicker results was underway with technical support from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
Genomic surveillance provides information on the evolution of viruses and other pathogens as they change over time. Knowing the changes or mutations that can modify their transmissibility and severity can guide public health measures. During the pandemic, it was a key strategy for monitoring the behavior of SARS-CoV-2 and is now being integrated into the surveillance of other pathogens.
In 2022, authorities selected and prepared a space within the National Virology Laboratory. With PAHO support, a sequencer, supplies, reagents, and laboratory furniture were acquired, and researchers like Soany traveled to the Gorgas Memorial Institute in Panama for bioinformatics and genomic sequencing training.
In March 2023, their efforts paid off and excitement gripped the National Virology Laboratory when,after several attempts, the first SARS-CoV-2 sequencing in the country was performed successfully. On March 21, 2023, results were obtained, and it was the first time that the Omicron variant XBB sub-lineage was detected in the country and by health professionals in Honduras.
PAHO has been strengthening or building the sequencing capacities of countries in the region since 2020 when it created the COVIGEN network. In addition to Honduras, public health laboratories in Bahamas, Barbados, Guatemala, and Haiti, among others, have also begun genomic sequencing for the first time between 2021 and 2022. The Pan American Health Organization continues to work with countries in the region to expand surveillance beyond COVID-19 to ensure timely detection and characterization of agents that may emerge in the region.