Need for quick tests in Africa
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.