For the first time since the outbreak of the Covid-19 outbreak, Africa may be poised to reshape rapid testing for the virus on the continent.
The Pasteur Institute, a biomedical research center in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, says it is producing nearly an affordable, portable Covid-19 diagnostic test kit that can provide results in minutes.
The institute has a new company called DiaTropix, which has been working with five research organizations, including Mologic in the UK, since March to create the test kit.
Amadou Sall, director of the Pasteur Institute and DiaTropix, told CNN that the biomedical center hopes the kit will cost just $ 1 to buy.
“This is a very simple technology, like a pregnancy test that you can use anywhere at a community level, which is important for Africa,” he said.
According to Mologic, this rapid test kit does not require electricity or laboratory analysis.
Instead, it consists of a simple test strip housed in a plastic unit and uses a small sample of blood collected by pricking a finger, much like instruments used to test insulin. The blood will be tested for coronavirus-related antibodies and the result will be displayed on the test strip.
A prototype of the kit was tested in June after raising funds from donors such as the UK non-profit Wellcome Trust and the UK government, Sall said. Once the regulatory audits are complete, the plan is to start manufacturing and distributing the kits.
The Covid-19 rapid test kits will be available on the continent for the first time through governments and health organizations such as the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), Sall said.
“Ideally, we will work on how we can make (the kits) available to the more general public. But right now the focus is on public health, and then we move on to self-testing, ”he added.
Sall said the goal is to release 10 to 15 million kits by February 2021.
According to the Africa CDC, there are more than 1.8 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the African continent at the time of writing, nearly half of which are in South Africa.
The number of cases on the continent is relatively low compared to the rest of the world, but experts say low testing in many African countries means some cases go unreported and untreated.
Dr. Anderson Latt, an epidemiologist with the World Health Organization, told CNN that one of the challenges in tackling the virus on the continent is a shortage of test kits.
Considered the most accurate diagnostic test for Covid-19, PCR tests are expensive to run and require both specialized supplies and laboratory technicians. At the start of the outbreak, only two laboratories – in South Africa and Senegal – were able to test for the virus.
According to WHO, all 47 countries in the WHO African region can now make diagnoses. But in many places, testing is still lagging behind.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, imports its PCR test kits from China, but cannot get the amount it needs.
The country recently announced a plan to develop a cheaper rapid test kit that will deliver results in 40 minutes and cost less than $ 25.
“There is a need for countries to work together in a coordinated manner and ensure that test kits are available,” said Latt. “It’s really critical.”
The test kits being developed by the Pasteur Institute in Dakar, he added, are a welcome addition.
This is not the first time that the Pasteur Institute has been at the forefront of providing public health solutions in the event of a pandemic.
It has been producing vaccines for about 80 years, Sall said, and provided diagnostic and epidemiological surveillance during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa from 2013 to 2016.
Sall, who is also the director of the WHO Collaborating Center for Arboviruses and Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers in Senegal, believes the presence of the rapid Covid-19 test kits will boost the economy.
“When you are confronted with a situation where people cannot work because they are sick… it is very disruptive for the economy. And in this regard, investing in those initiatives (test kits) to promote access is one way to keep the economy going, ”he said .– CNN
CNN’s Adeline Chen contributed to this report.