Home-grown response to coronavirus

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.

Local solution

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.



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