As part of efforts towards improving the coronavirus testing capacity of Nigeria, Nigerian scientists have developed a less expensive and faster test kit for COVID-19. Unlike the PCR tests, the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) stated that the new invention is cheaper and is capable of producing results in less than 40 minutes. Information revealed by the NIMR suggests that the kits which are expected to solve the challenges faced by areas with a shortage of testing kits will cost less than $25. Samples are to be tested with the use of a mobile machine which can be operated by health personnel that are low-skilled with minimal training.
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‘We saw the need for more testing outfits, especially one that can give results in a short time because hospitals were refusing to treat patients without Covid-19 results. The machine we use is not a common PCR one. We bought the machine and adapted the kit that we developed to work with this machine. It is meant for the diagnosis of other pathogens.’
Babatunde Salako (Director of NIMR)
Further, Salako explained the fact that the new test kit is a bit lower than the PCR, but it is extremely important for the point of care. Nigeria imports testing kits from China and has been confronted with the challenge of having adequate kits for her population estimated at 200 million. Salako who has been in charge of the NIMR since 2016, noted that the new kits afford health facilities the opportunity to diversify testing and reach out to rural areas.
‘We thought this one was very important as it will diversify the way testing is done. With this one, all the people in villages and remote areas can be tested by moving the machine to those villages.’
Information from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, shows that Nigeria has recorded over 59,000 coronavirus cases with over 1,000 deaths. Meanwhile, as health authorities in the country continue to report a massive decline in cases, isolation centres are being closed in certain areas. Notable as the most populous black nation on earth, Nigeria has only been able to test about 500,000 of her citizens, but this figure is expected to change when the new kits come into use. Though the PCR test is the most reliable globally, it requires specialized supplies and its instruments are quite expensive, and operated by highly trained lab technicians.
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In Nigeria, testing is free in laboratories that are state-owned but such facilities are few and are located in major cities. Health officials in most cases have to transfer samples to other states for result confirmation due to inadequacy of testing kits.
‘It has always been my concern and passion to see that Nigeria doesn’t have to take samples outside to diagnose. We have scientists who are capable of this if they have the necessary support. That was what led to a visit to Senegal and China, We had collaboration to train our people in pathogen detection, even before Covid started, we went in August and September 2019 to train our scientists.’
The NIMR boss stated that once the kits are approved by relevant authorities (Nigeria Center for Disease Control and the Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria), they will be produced in mass as the only limitation to its validation is the production of more samples.
‘We do not expect the validation to take so long. The only limitation is that we have to produce more samples of these kits and acquire some new machines that are key to our work. Once that is done, we can mass produce with government support and serve markets in all of Africa.’
Featured Image Source: CNN
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