Dr Raj Ramesar, Professor/Head of the Division of Human Genetics UCT
Dr Charles Rotimi
Dr Michelle Ramsay, Chair of the International Scientific Programme Committee
Dr Francis Collins, Former Director National Institute of Health
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is my great privilege to welcome you all to the 14th International Congress of Human Genetics, taking place for the first time in Africa. Africa is determined to invest in science and innovation and your presence here indicates that there are opportunities for co-operation between our continent and your countries. The theme of this congress, ‘Coming Home’, holds a special meaning for us, as it speaks to the anthropological reference of all human origins in Africa and signals that the worlds genetic scientists have returned to their origins to advance science. It also implies that the opportunity for excellent novel genetics research and innovation lies here in Africa.
I would like to start by acknowledging the remarkable progress that has been made in the field of human genetics and human health over the last 60 years. This congress is testament to the tireless efforts of scientists and researchers all over the world who have dedicated their lives to advancing our understanding of human biology, and to improving human health and wellness.
Africa has played a critical role in shaping the field of human genetics. Many of you may know that the earliest human ancestors were from Africa, and it is truly remarkable to think that the roots of human genetics can be traced back to our own continent.
This congress is a unique opportunity for us to come together as a global community, and to celebrate advances in the field of human genetics that have been made since the last joint congress of the African and Southern African Societies of Human Genetics that was held here in Cape Town, in 2011. It was then that the Human Heredity and Health: Africa or H3A Africa partnership was launched. I had the honour of opening that meeting as the then Minister of Science and Technology.
I would like to acknowledge the virtual presence of Dr Francis Collins, our distinguished speaker this evening, who was here in 2011, with the Director of the Welcome Trust, Sir Mark Walport, to launch the H3A programme. I am proud to say that the H3A Africa partnership continues to thrive and is making a significant impact in promoting human health and wellness in Africa. Through this partnership, African researchers and scientists have been able to collaborate with one another creating a powerful African network, that links with their international counterparts, to advance understanding of human genetic variation and its impact on disease susceptibility.
You will be hearing more about this partnership in the course of this ICHG2023 meeting and the adjoining H3Africa meeting. This congress is not just about looking back at our past, it is also about looking to the future, and embracing the exciting opportunities that lie ahead. The field of human genetics is rapidly evolving, and we are seeing new and innovative approaches to studying the human genome and understanding the impact of genetics on human health. I am keen to hear that H3Africa has laid a foundation for African research excellence and created the possibility of more research intensive universities in Africa.
I do not need to remind this audience of the importance of including African populations in large scale studies, especially because the indigenous populations of Africa harbour the greatest depth of genomics variation. One area in which there has been significant progress is in the understanding and treatment of non-communicable diseases. Advances in genomics have allowed for a better understanding of the underlying causes of these diseases, and the development of new and innovative treatments that can improve patient outcomes.
Another area of critical importance is in the study of the COVID-19 pandemic. The role of genomics has been crucial in tracking the spread of the virus, and in understanding its underlying mechanisms. This work is critical to the global effort to develop effective treatments and vaccines, and to bring an end to the pandemic. In South Africa, we are proud of the role that our scientists and researchers have played and continue to play in these efforts. Through partnerships like H3A Africa, our researchers are working to advance our own understanding of human genetics, and to make a positive impact on human health and wellness.
In conclusion, I would like to extend a warm welcome to each and every one of you, and I wish you a successful congress, filled with new insights, connections, and opportunities. I am confident that this congress will be a catalyst for further growth and development in the field of human genetics, and I look forward to seeing the impact that this congress will have in the years to come.