Illustration by Brian Lutz for Time (Source Photos: Nyani Quarmyne/Panos Pictures/Redux; Courtesy Sikhulile Moyo/ProPhoto Studios Gaborone)
May 23, 2022 6:25 AM EDT

Scientists in Africa have been monitoring and sequencing pathogens since long before the pandemic. The world benefited from this network when scientists including Sikhulile Moyo, laboratory director for the Botswana-­Harvard HIV Reference Laboratory, and Tulio de Oliveira, director of South Africa’s Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation, identified and reported the emergence of the Omicron variant last November. It was a transformational moment and a shift in paradigm—one that for me symbolized that excellence in science can originate in Africa.

The international response to news of this discovery—which included travel bans imposed on African countries by other nations—was complex. It made me reflect on what global cooperation and solidarity must look like when we fight a common threat like COVID-19.

Every generation has people who inspire subsequent generations. Sikhulile and Tulio have the potential to be that for people who will work in public health and genomics. We have not seen the end of their contributions.

Nkengasong is the director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

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