Pharmacogenetics: Relevance to African Healthcare
Natalie J. Roetz and Louise Warnich
Affiliation: Department of Genetics, Stellenbosch University, Private Bag X1, Matieland, 7602, South Africa.
Keywords: Africa, disease burden, HIV/AIDS, malaria, pharmacogenetics, pharmacogenomics, tuberculosis.
Sequencing the human genome, more than a decade ago, initiated the genomics era and the promise of truly
personalized medicine. However, much is still unknown about the genetic factors that affect drug efficacy and toxicity,
and there are currently very few clinically useful pharmacogenetic tests available. Of these, even fewer are potentially of
benefit to developing countries in Africa because pharmacogenetic screening tests are often not applicable to African
populations with their unique genetic profiles. Yet, pharmacogenetic tests that accurately predict drug response and
toxicity can have a major impact on efficient and effective healthcare in Africa, where the burden of disease is greatest.
HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis are responsible for approximately 2.5 million deaths in Africa annually, and
improving medical care for just these three infectious diseases would save millions of lives. A number of potential
biomarkers have been reported that purportedly influence the efficacy and/or toxicity of antiretroviral, antimalarial, and
antituberculosis drugs, but more research is required to completely understand the pharmacogenetic applications
associated with these treatments. Another 2 million people, however, are dying of preventable and easily curable diseases,
such as diarrhoeal and lower respiratory tract diseases. Although pharmacogenetics can play a pivotal role in combating
the disease and therapeutic burden in Africa in the future, a multifaceted approach is required to provide effective, affordable
and personalized healthcare while also addressing the extreme poverty and other related problems of the people in
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