Makerere University Sets Timelines for its Innovations; Covid-19 Rapid Test Kit and Low-cost Ventilator

Makerere's VC, Prof Nawangwe conducting a virtual press briefing on Tuesday

Makerere University has said that it had already received 40,000 testing kits from its partners including Case Western Reserve University, to help in testing for Coronavirus.

This was revealed by the Vice Chancellor, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe during a virtual press briefing on Tuesday.

Nawangwe cited some of the innovations including the rapid testing kit, the low cost ventilator, the EpiTent and the Covid 19 tests that the university is undertaking.

“We have received 40,000 testing kits from our partners,” he said.

Makerere University Health Services with support  from Case Western Reserve University has built capacity to perform PCR based (molecular) tests for COVID-19. 

“They will be able to conduct 40,000 tests and they are finalizing the details for implementation. The University is partnering with several local and international research institutions and universities in the search for solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic”.

The Makerere University College of Health Sciences has over the past 15 years built extensive expertise, experience and eco-systems across the academia, industry and public private partnerships for Research and Development of pathogen diagnostics.

Prof Nawangwe said the team led by Dr. Misaki Wayengera is developing an affordable (costing less than $1), easy to use (requiring minimal expertise, user guide), rapid POC test platform for COVID19 suited for use within remote equatorial African settings.

This kit will enable rapid testing for coronavirus and considerably lower the cost of testing currently standing at $65, which is obviously prohibitive for developing countries like Uganda.

The test will yield results within 2-5 minutes.

The swab-tube dipstick agglutination (STDS-AgX) SARS-CoV2 antigen test will utilize the nasopharyngeal sample collection swab, which is placed back into its tube containing reagents that detect the virus surface protein. 

On shaking, a positive result will be visualized as formation of particles (equivalent to what is seen when clear milk, goes bad).

“In addition, we shall develop two lateral flow test (LFT) platforms for detecting host-specific antibody responses against CoVID19 (IgM and IgG)”.

These can be used in detection of COVID19 cases within epidemic/pandemic settings, screening of travelers for COVID19, detection of asymptomatic COVID19 and Sero-prevalence studies to determine previous exposure.

According to Nawangwe, these home-grown assay platforms will enable Uganda and other African settings cost-effectively respond to the COVID19 pandemic. 

This particularly as the pandemic enters the exponential phase in many countries when many cases will emerge, and yet tests are scarce on the global scene.

Regarding timelines for these innovations, he said the antibody (IgM and IgG) LFA will be ready by end of May and the first STDS-AgX COVID19 by June.

Meanwhile, a team from the Resilient Africa Network (RAN) has developed the Epidemic Management Tent (EpiTent).

RAN is project involving 16 universities in 11 african countries based in the School of Public Health and coordinated by Prof. Bazeyo. 

The EpiTent is used for isolation of patients with severe communicable diseases like Ebola and COVID-19 and it is approved by the USAID and the WHO.

Researchers from RAN in collaboration with College of Engineering and Technology, College of Health Sciences and engineers from Kiira Motors Corporation are developing a low-cost ventilator.

The team successfully conducted an engineering test of the ventilator on April 10 and it is now undergoing various validation tests before applying to the National Drug Authority and other certifying agencies for use on patients.

The ventilator will considerably lower the cost of this very important facility from the current cost on the open international market, which ranges between $25,000 and $60,000. Development of the ventilator, which will cost approximately $5,000 is expected to be completed in the next four to eight weeks.

Prof Nawangwe has lauded the scientists who are looking for local solutions to the pandemic.

“Makerere is committed to contributing to knowledge creation and innovations for the good of humanity. We will continue along this path because this is what makes us a truly global university”. 

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