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Nigeria eyes local production of test kits for COVID-19

In a bid to address the shortage of test kits in the country, and ramp up daily testing capacity for COVID-19, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is set to begin the local production of cheap testing kits, with the successful validation of the first phase of the viral Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) extraction.

The Director General of the NCDC, Chikwe Ihekweazu had said Nigeria is in desperate need of RNA extraction kits, which are a critical part of diagnostic tests for COVID-19.

Nigeria’s health minister had also repeatedly said the shortage of reagents in the country amid a global scarcity is one of the major constraints in the fight against the deadly virus. He also noted that these test kits are not only scarce but also expensive.

Health authorities disclosed that the lack of reagents had stalled the molecular diagnosis for COVID-19 in Kano and Lagos for many days.

To tackle this challenge, the DG mandated the Chief Molecular Bioengineer, National Reference Laboratory of NCDC, Ndodo Nnaemeka to launch the validation project, which is a breakthrough in Africa.

Nnaemeka said the project is designed to solve the problem of RNA extraction kit which had become a global issue. He said there were serious concerns for the need to have more extraction kits in-country, and that there was growing demand worldwide for extraction kits.

He noted that the western world prioritises their own interest first by making sure that they meet their local needs before exporting to other countries, hence the local production of the kits became highly necessary.

The NCDC chief molecular bioengineer said the first phase of the evaluation results he carried out with the NABDA scientific team was “awesome and successful.’’

“The  kits compete favourably well with other international kits we are using; in fact, it scored highly in purity and in quantity of extraction and we are thinking of scaling production,’’ Nnaemeka said.

He clarified that to be able to conduct test, the viral information which comes as the RNA has to first be extracted and without this extraction, no test can be conducted.

“What will tell you that the virus is there is contained in the RNA, so RNA is required for you to be able to detect COVID-19,’’ he added

He informed that as scientists, they would soon carry out the second phase of the evaluation which would involve real sample of COVID-19.

The Director-General of National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) Alex Akpa, however assured that the success of the validation which took place on at the NABDA laboratory in Abuja will enable the country to massively produce test kits so that more people would be tested for COVID-19, not only in Nigeria but in Africa.

“This project is, therefore, designed to enable not only Nigeria but the whole of Africa to put the issue of shortage of reagents behind. The immediate aim is to produce reagents for real time Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)”, the director-general said.

Rose Gidado, a scientist at NABDA said the validated RNAswift Test Kit for COVID-19 disclosed that the new test kit could test more than 20,000 people per day.

“If we set up more testing centres, we can easily do 50,000 with automation,’’ the scientist said.

She said the  African Development Bank was taking over the manufacture of the test kits so as to expand Nigeria’s testing capacity.

The project is a Pan-African project whose partners include Ethiopia, NCDC and the University of Sheffield, U.K., among others with funding to come from African Development Bank. It was developed by Dr Alison Nwokeoji, a Nigerian scientist at the University of Sheffield, U.K.

The project was a partnership involving NABDA, NCDC, Ethiopia, NVRI Vom, NIMR and the Ministries of Science and Technology, Health and Agriculture.

The evaluation and validation of the RNAswift Test Kit for COVID-19 was carried out in the immunology laboratory of the NABDA.

It was done in the presence of a donor, Bolaji Akinboro of Cellulant Nig. Ltd, and  Richard Mbaram, the Technical Adviser to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Sabo Nanono, among others.

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