Testing for COVID-19 is on the path of significant improvement in Africa following the outcome of a major breakthrough by a Nigerian laboratory set to deploy rapid diagnostic test kits, using paper strips, to trigger a regime of mass testing across the continent.
Epidemiologists prioritise testing as a key public health response in mitigating the spread of the COVID-19 along with other protocols like contact tracing, social distancing and the donning of face masks to control the aerosolization of droplets particularly from asymptomatic patients.
Christian Happi, a professor of molecular biology and genomics at African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID), Ede, in Osun State developed the kits with his colleague of over two decades, Pardis Sabeti, who is a professor at the Center for Systems Biology and Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University in the United States.
Mr Happi came to public imagination in 2014 when, within four months of the Ebola outbreak, he helped confirm the diagnosis of the first case of the disease in Nigeria using advanced genomics and deep sequencing technology to advance swift diagnostic test, in five minutes, against the Ebola Virus Disease.
He also worked closely with health authorities for the successful containment of the recent Ebola outbreak in Nigeria. His novel five minutes rapid diagnosis test for Lassa fever has also received approval from the World Health Organisation and United States Food and Drug Administration.
Speaking on the new COVID-19 testing kit, Mr Happi told PREMIUM TIMES in a telephone interview from Ede that the kits were “about being rolled out.” As in past endeavors, national and regional health bodies are expected to partner with the research centre in the roll out.
“The good thing about this test is that it takes only thirty minutes and can be administered by anyone, anywhere, unlike the PCR test which takes about 7-8 hours and require the use of heavy machinery.”
The PCR (Polymerise Chain Reaction) test, hitherto the staple of the industry, is used to directly detect the presence of an antigen, rather than the presence of the body’s immune response, or antibodies.
The new diagnostic test offers more than time-saving value to the patient, it offers significant out of pocket value to the patient. “While a PCR test costs $125 (N48,838), the paper strip test will cost only $3 (N1,163),” Mr Happi told PREMIUM TIMES, adding, “It is fast, reliable, affordable, and very comparable to PCR.”