The Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership (BHP) Laboratory Director, Dr Sikhulile Moyo has been chosen by the German Africa Foundation as the joint winner of the 2022 German Africa Award alongside South Africa’s Professor Tulio de Oliveira for the roles they have both played in the discovery of the Omicron SARS-CoV-2 variant in November 2021. Dr Moyo (Virologist) and Professor Tulio de Oliveira (Bioinformatician) are jointly credited with the discovery of the B.1.1.529 SARS-CoV-2 variant, subsequently named Omicron by the World Health Organization. They will be presented with the award in Berlin on 25 November 2022.
Prof Tulio de Oliveira is the Director at the Centre for Epidemiology (CERI) at Stellenbosch University, Director of and Co-Founder of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform (KRISP) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and Director of the South African Network for Genome Surveillance (NGS-SA). Dr Moyo and Professor de Oliveira have also jointly been named to the TIME Magazine’s list of 100 most influential people in the world for the year 2022 for the discovery of Omicron.
According to the German Africa Foundation, nominations for the German Africa Award are sent in by German embassies in Africa as well as by a number of German institutions with offices in African countries and by African diaspora organisations in Germany. This year, 25 candidates were presented to the independent jury and Dr Moyo and Tulio emerged the joint winners. The independent jury consists of around 20 representatives of the Federal Foreign Office and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, heads of the Africa departments of the political foundations as well as other personalities who are particularly committed to German-African relations.
The German Africa Foundation believes that by discovering and immediately reporting the Omicron variant to the WHO, the two leaders made a huge contribution to the worldwide fight against the pandemic and set new standards for excellent research, cooperation and integrity.
The German Africa Foundation has been committed to strengthening German-African relations for more than 40 years as a non-partisan political foundation, mainly funded by Germany’s Foreign Ministry, with the main mandate being to support the implementation of Germany’s Africa policy guidelines by organizing exchanges, political discussions and expert talks between German and African political, economic and scientific stakeholders and promoting a differentiated image of the African continent both in politics and in public. Since 1993 the Foundation has been awarding the German Africa Award to outstanding personalities on the continent who have contributed to democracy, peace, human rights, arts and culture, economic development, science and society in an outstanding manner.
Dr Moyo has been invited to receive the award during a festive ceremony in Berlin where he will attend meetings in parliament, with ministries, research and health facilities, civil society and business representatives. The Foundation consider the award as the most important of its kind in Germany due to due to its awareness at the highest political level.
Also, for the discovery of the Omicron variant, Dr Moyo was also awarded the Jesse Jackson International Humanitarian Award at the 32nd Annual Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr Celebration where he received a special commendation by Rev. Dr Jesse Jackson during the annual speech.
BHP has been working collaboratively in research with Ministry of Health (MOH) since 1996 and in the past years expanding collaborations with local research and academic institutions. One of our priorities is capacity building. Dr Moyo and colleagues are not only contributing towards knowledge based economy but also graduating a number of PhDs, Masters students and also training undergraduates in Botswana. He participates in various national technical working groups and recently had been part of the Covid-19 response as part of Presidential taskforce for COVID-19 and also incident management team with MOH.
BHP is grateful that this kind of work is a reflection of the Collaboration and this success is a contribution of many public health teams in the country, scientists that Dr Moyo leads, the leadership and the enabling environment created by MOH, especially the national heath laboratory and collaborating private laboratories.