The fight against Covid-19 is at the centre of all attention across the globe. Doctors, researchers, engineers, everyone is working on solutions to limit the damage caused by the Coronavirus.
Until a COVID-19 vaccine is ready, Senegal is employing affordable and widespread testing as a strategy to flatten the curve.
It has become one of the countries in Africa leading the fight against the insidious virus.
After declaring a state of emergency, closing its land, air and sea borders to all but essential goods traffic and banning public gatherings, it has focused on tracking potential infections.
Despite a low health budget, Senegal is championing the control of the novel Coronavirus. From early-detection mobile kits to 3D-printed ventilators, the West African nation is demonstrating a possible model in curbing COVID-19, relying on their experience of managing the Ebola outbreak.
Senegal’s Institut Pasteur de Dakar has developed a Covid-19 testing kit that costs $1 and can deliver results in about 10 minutes. The institute was able to achieve this by drawing from a wealth of experience gathered from developing vaccines and treatments for several ailments including yellow fever and dengue.
The testing kit was developed in collaboration with Mologic, a British biotech company. However, the Covid-19 test kits won’t be ready for distribution until June, after necessary testing must have been concluded.
The updates also confirmed that the testing kit can be used at home for a simple test using the saliva or a blood sample of the individual. Similar to how a pregnancy test kit works, a bloodline appears to indicate the presence or absence of the Covid-19 antibody.
“There is no need for a highly equipped lab, it is a simple test that can be done anywhere. The idea is to produce 2 to 4 million test kits not just for us but for African countries so that we can detect and isolate them quickly,” Amadou Alpha Sall, Director of the Pasteur Institute (IPD) said.
As the test can be performed without any need for electricity, it would be of particular use for Africa’s rural communities, which often do not have access to power.
More controversially, Senegal has been pioneering the use of an anti-malarial drug, chloroquine, to treat Coronavirus patients.
Still, many African health officials bristle at the suggestion that they are not adequately addressing the crisis, saying there has been an unprecedented level of mobilisation for Covid-19, as well as a growing reserve of experience to draw on.
“I’m happy and proud [about] what Africa has done this time because usually we spend time running after epidemics when it is there but in this time we have been prepared,” Dr Sall said further.
At the onset of the outbreak, the institute trained 35 lab technicians around the continent to do Covid-19 testing. Dr Sall says African health officials have also learned a lot from the West African Ebola crisis in 2014, and have created critical communications and collaborative networks aimed at containing the virus.
“We put together a whole group of people that are going to be together working on referral of samples and confirmation, we’re going to do the [genetic] sequencing… and also very important we’re going to do research. Research is absolutely critical because three months ago nobody knew about this virus so understanding how it evolves in an African context is… absolutely important.”
It is worth noting that on April 2 2020, the world bank through the International Development Association (IDA) promised an outlay of $20 million to help Senegal in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
The continent has benefitted from the fairly slow arrival of the virus – giving its 54 countries a window to set up testing and treatment capabilities and prove that the solution may be gotten from Africa.
In Senegal, four teacher-researchers have decided to mobilize their expertise in order to also participate in improving living conditions in an atmosphere of unpretentious psychosis. They are Doctors Ibrahima Gueye (EPT), Ahmed Mouhamadou Wade (EPT), Mamadou Lamine Diagne (University of Thiès) and Ousmane Seydi (EPT).
Part of Senegal’s response to the pandemic has also come from its engineers who have developed a process of using 3D-technology to print out ventilators and make them available at $60. This is relatively cheap compared to the $16,000 which is the cost of imported ventilators.
The trio of Usman Dalhatu, Dr. Yunusa Muhammad Garba and Aliyu Hassan—three young, but talented Nigerian inventors—may just have provided the Nigerian government with solutions to the problem of scarce ventilators at health facilities in the West African country.
With only few raw materials – metals and iron – sourced locally from damaged parts of cars and other machines, Dalhatu, who is a 200-level student of Mechanical Engineering at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria, in Kaduna State, designed and produced a manual ventilator, to be used in treating Coronavirus patients.
Let’s not forget Beninese Apivirine from Valentin Agon which has created so much hope for Burkinabe people.
Researchers at the Madagascan Institute for Applied Research (IMRA) have created a ‘cure’ called Covid-Organics. This treatment presented in the form of herbal tea is “both preventive and curative composed of artemisia and Madagascan medicinal plants”.
His Grace Samuel Kleda, Archbishop of Douala has found a herbal concoction to be considered a possible cure for the deadly Coronavirus pandemic, and indicated that some studies need to be carried out on those who recovered after taking the medicine.
In the wake of the development, many Cameroonians expressed disappointment that the Cameroonian government does not have a working structure that adequately supports research in the country.
The reactions allude to Senegal’s strides towards producing testing kits that particularly cater to the needs of the African continent on key areas including price, limited know-how required, availability and other technical requirements.
Initiatives such as the cheap test Senegal is developing will be essential in saving lives on a continent with weak healthcare and sanitation systems, and populations often vulnerable to disease because of underlying conditions such as malnutrition, tuberculosis and HIV/Aids.
By Elume Raymond (Excerpts courtesy of African News Agency – ANA)