Africa Rising: Clarion Call from Home

14th International Congress of Human Genetics, March 9-13, 2021, Cape Town, South Africa
March 2019

Charles Rotimi, PhD
Charles Rotimi, PhD, ASHG Board of Directors
(courtesy Dr. Rotimi)

The African Society of Human Genetics (AfSHG) was established in 2003 after considerable consultation with African and international scientists interested in human genetics, genomics, and biomedical research on the continent. Following these deliberations, which included a satellite meeting held during the ASHG 2001 Annual Meeting in San Diego, it became clear that no other society, organization, or conference specifically addresses the critical needs of African researchers and institutions interested in genomics research and capacity development to enable full participation of African scientists and students in the ongoing global genomic revolution. The AfSHG was subsequently established with the aim of equipping the African scientific community and policymakers with the information and practical knowledge they need to contribute to the field of genomics research and to attract global attention to the efforts of African scientists. The first meeting was held in Accra, Ghana, with Charles Rotimi as the Founding President.

A notable motivation for the existence of the AfSHG was the recognition that it was not a Society just for organizing conferences, but for considering how best to get genomic sciences established on the continent behind something like a mythical and all-embracing ‘African Genome Project’. It was this drive by members of the AfSHG, and notably, friends of the Society including Sir Walter Bodmer (Oxford University), David Bentley (Illumina), Eric Green and Francis Collins (NIH), and Sir Mark Walthorp (Wellcome Trust), that saw this vision take shape in the form of the Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) Initiative. With over 200 million U.S. dollars funding from the NIH and the Wellcome Trust, the H3Africa initiative has created pan-continental networks of labs that are applying leading-edge research to the study of genetic and environmental basis of disease and drug responses in Africans. With footprints in over 28 African countries and participation of over 500 African scientists, H3Africa has fully engaged the continent in genomic science and big data analysis.

It is against this setting, and with a belief that Africa is the land of remarkable genomic opportunities – considering the depth of variation exhibited in African genomes, and the wide range of chronic and infectious diseases that necessarily had a genetic predisposition – that a bid was made to the IFSHG to host the ICHG2021. The strap line of the meeting is a parental plea to the rest of the world to ‘…come home’ to Africa, the Cradle of Humanity.

Although the focus is going to be broadly on human genomics and diseases, there will be a strong focus on anthropological genetics as an homage to human origins on this continent. The Scientific Program Committee is making every effort to make the program as exciting as is humanly possible. Perhaps an appeal is for senior researchers, while planning to attend, to encourage and make possible their emerging researchers to undertake what might be a trip of a lifetime. Cape Town, South Africa, is a beautiful city and a wonderful tourism destination. Given what the city provides and compared to other top tourism destinations in the world, Cape Town is relatively affordable. So “come home” with your lab members, friends and family.

We are making special efforts to engage larger national and continental societies of human genetics to raise funds to make it possible to support a sizable number of travel grants, especially for young researchers. We are very pleased to say that leading African and international geneticists and genome scientists have not just expressed interest in attending the meeting, but have been hugely excited in assisting with enhancing the scientific program. It is with this in mind that Africa opens its heart to welcoming members of the international human genetics and genomics community to experience a meeting like no other. So, roll on March 2021 – we can’t wait to welcome you back home.

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