Uganda launches domestic Covid-19 test kit

By Mark Kawalya

Makerere University, Uganda’s lead research institution has developed an antibody-based Covid-19 test that it says is more affordable and well suited to local conditions. Misaki Wayengera, a medical researcher and lecturer of Pathology, Immunology and Molecular Biology who led the development team for the kit says that the test will cost the country US$1 each compared to the US65 for current alternatives. 

“The kits are suited for use within remote equatorial African settings. This will enable rapid testing for coronavirus and considerably lower the cost … which is prohibitive for developing countries like Uganda,” said Wayengera, in a statement.

Misaki and his team have a history of developing tests for infectious diseases. They decided to embark on the journey since they have the necessary skills having previously invented a rapid test for Ebola. 

According to Wayengera, the test works by detecting two antibodies, immunoglobulin M (IgM) and immunoglobulin G (IgG), which are triggered when someone becomes infected with Covid-19.

Makerere University collaborated with a local firm Astel Diagnostics Uganda which is certified by the World Health Organisation to produce the initial batch comprising 2,400 tests. Misaki mentioned that talks are underway to bring bigger investors on board that would make commercial production possible.

After rigorous testing, the kit was approved by Uganda’s National Drugs Authority after scoring an accuracy rate of 70% but the research team is working to increase that parameter to 90%.

Affordable testing remains one of the keys to combating new Covid-19 infections but many African countries like Uganda have struggled to access affordable diagnostic tools that can be deployed in mass testing. 

The test research was funded by the Uganda Government and France with hopes that the product can be launched in different markets in Sub-Saharan Africa, that lack laboratory infrastructure to test for the novel Coronavirus. The test is carried out using a finger prick to draw blood and has a five-minute turnaround time for results to be generated.

Mr. Misaki the test’s lead researcher hailed the simplicity of using the test saying, “This is a point-of-care test that can be used within equatorial Africa village settings, remote areas where there’s no laboratory, there’s no electricity, there’s no expert.”

While many countries have been severely devastated by Covid-19, Uganda has suffered only a relatively mild impact with 123,857 Covid-19 cases, 3,159 deaths and 96,129 recoveries as of October 1, 2021. 

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