Research under way to fight the virus
The lack of accurate rapid tests for Covid-19 has assisted in the spread of the virus from China to the rest of the world. The advent of the pandemic in our communities is calling for a rapid response to curb the spread.
This rapid response can be achieved through multidisciplinary, inter-institutional and multi-sectoral endeavours, which demand effective collaboration. The University of Limpopo (UL) has joined global research efforts by presenting collaborative ground-breaking research aimed at assisting governments with their strategic response to the Covid-19 outbreak.
A UL-led multidisciplinary, inter-institutional and multi-sectoral team has started research projects on the implementation of low-cost blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) coupled self-testing and tracking system and on essential diagnostics to guide administration on the Covid-19 drugs.
These two research projects are led by Professor Tivani Mashamba-Thompson, a Limpopo-born, NRF-rated medical scientist (molecular biology) who is based in the department of public health, UL. Her team comprises Dr Desmond Kuupiel, a point-of-care (POC) diagnostics supply chain management expert and intensive care nurse based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal; Dr Buyisile Chibi, a public health pharmacy expert based at Caprisa; Ms Ellen D Crayton, an information technology and blockchain expert based at Genesis Technology and Management Group in Maryland, Washington in the US.
New tech to curb virus
In a recent article, Mashamba-Thompson and Clayton reported a growing concern about the failure to find and report Covid-19 cases, especially given weak health systems, inadequate surveillance, insufficient laboratory capacity and limited public health infrastructure in African countries. They called for improved access to accurate diagnosis, monitoring and reporting of health outbreaks. The researchers also proposed the use of innovations such as blockchain and AI that can be coupled with POC diagnostics to enable self-testing of patients in isolation as a result of exposure to Covid-19.
South Africa has observed how different communities reacted to the lockdown strategy, which has been shown as effective in Europe and Asia. We welcomed international pharmaceutical companies’ efforts to develop drug products for prevention and radical cure of Covid-19. Some of these products have shown to be effective in predominately Asian and European populations.
The differences in the genetic make-up of people of different races may result in a different response to drug products. This calls for local research efforts on new drugs and vaccines before their distribution to the wider population.
The UL-led research team is leading research focused on preventing drug, diversion, abuse and misuse. The projects will be aimed at drugs that have been recommended for radical cure of Covid-19 among Africans. Its research efforts will be aimed at essential POC diagnostics to help guide clinics when making decisions to administer different group drugs for the radical cure of Covid-19.
The UL team’s research efforts call for African universities to create multidisciplinary research platforms for interdisciplinary, preclinical research, disease-targeted research aimed at improving population health outcomes.
This type of research also calls for an end in research silos, which are keeping Africa behind in terms of health-care innovations. Most health innovations that are in use in Africa are developed by researchers in advanced high-income countries and deployed to us at a cost.
African researchers are well-positioned to develop effective strategies to respond to local disease outbreaks. This will require a collaboration of expertise and to ensure local innovations are developed locally to reduce the costs.