Need for quick tests in Africa

Pretoria News - - WORLD - | Wash­ing­ton Post

AL­READY ex­hausted from test­ing for mon­key pox and Lassa fever, Nige­rian molec­u­lar bio-en­gi­neer Nnae­meka Ndodo had to work well past mid­night ear­lier this month to find out if six Chi­nese con­struc­tion work­ers were in­fected with the coron­avirus.

Ndodo had to col­lect sam­ples from a hos­pi­tal an hour away in Nige­ria’s cap­i­tal, Abuja, then wait for six hours to get the re­sults in what’s one of only five lab­o­ra­to­ries able to test for the virus in Nige­ria, Africa’s most pop­u­lous na­tion, with about 200 mil­lion peo­ple.

In about three months’ time, UK-based Mo­logic Ltd, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Sene­galese re­search foun­da­tion In­sti­tut Pas­teur de Dakar, could shorten that wait to 10 min­utes with a test that will help a con­ti­nent with the world’s most frag­ile health-care sys­tem cope with the pan­demic.

Thirty-six of 54 coun­tries on the con­ti­nent have the ca­pac­ity to test for the coron­avirus, but a spike in cases could over­whelm lab­o­ra­to­ries.

Ethiopian Prime Min­is­ter Abiy Ahmed said on Sun­day that he struck a part­ner­ship with Chi­nese bil­lion­aire Jack Ma to dis­trib­ute be­tween 10 000 and 20 000 test kits and 100 000 masks per African coun­try, as well as newly de­vel­oped guide­books for treat­ment.

Separately, the Ethiopia-based Africa Cen­tres for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion ex­pect to dis­trib­ute 200 000 tests across the con­ti­nent next week, mostly from Ber­lin-based TIB Mol­biol, ac­cord­ing to the group’s head of lab­o­ra­tory, Ye­new Kebede. It’s also send­ing more than 100 ex­perts across Africa.

That’s where Mo­logic comes in. Us­ing tech­nol­ogy from home preg­nancy and malaria tests, its saliva and fin­ger-prick kit could be ready for sale from June for less than $1 (R18) apiece.

In Africa, they will be man­u­fac­tured in Sene­gal by di­aTropix run by the di­rec­tor of the Pas­teur In­sti­tute, Amadou Al­pha Sall, who has led train­ing around the con­ti­nent for coron­avirus test­ing.

“We are en­sur­ing that th­ese tests are made ac­ces­si­ble at the cost of man­u­fac­ture,” said Joe Fitch­ett, med­i­cal di­rec­tor of Mo­logic, which re­ceived a $1.2 mil­lion grant from the UK gov­ern­ment to de­velop the test.

Mo­logic and the In­sti­tut Pas­teur have joint ca­pac­ity to pro­duce 8 mil­lion tests a year and plan to sell them di­rectly to African gov­ern­ments as well as the Global Al­liance for Vac­cines and Im­mu­ni­sa­tion and the WHO, Fitch­ett said.

Train­ing is be­ing ramped up too. Fif­teen African lab­o­ra­to­ries re­ceived guide­lines last month from the Sene­galese in­sti­tute to di­ag­nose the virus, while ad­di­tional train­ing was held in South Africa for another 12 African coun­tries. “A quick test could be a game changer for us,” said Chikwe Ihek­weazu, head of Nige­ria’s Cen­tre for Dis­ease Con­trol.

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