African Universities are right on the frontline in the battle against coronavirus.
With the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) sweeping across the African continent and affecting many, scientists and innovators around the continent are racing to invent ways to contain the further spread of the virus.
The highly infectious nature of Covid-19 means there is a pressing need to find corresponding solutions, from speeding up the detection of virus carriers and halting the spread of the virus to developing a potential vaccine.
In this article, we take a look at how African top universities are helping fight the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology
Researchers at the College of Engineering of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) are expecting to see the full operationalization of an automated ventilator they have designed which will be out in a month time.
According to Citi Newsroom, officials from the Ghana Health Service and the Ghana Standards Authority who have inspected the prototype say it is an intervention that can significantly contribute to improving healthcare delivery in the wake of the outbreak of COVID-19 in Ghana.
With regards to testing, KCCR is one of the two high-level research centers in Ghana leading efforts in the testing of suspected COVID-19 cases.
Located at the KNUST Campus, it serves largely the central and northern part of the country.
Between February and May 2020, KCCR had tested over 2000 samples of suspected COVID-19 cases.
The Kumasi Centre for Collaborative Research in Tropical Medicine (KCCR) is a German-Ghanaian research center, located on the campus of the Kwame Nkrumah University for Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, Ashanti Region.
It is jointly operated by KNUST, Bernhard-Nocht-Institut for Tropical Medicine, Hamburg, and the Ghanaian Ministry of Health.
To increase the number of testing, KNUST and Incas Diagnostics, a diagnostic company in Kumasi, has created a Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) kit to help test for the novel coronavirus.
The Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (FPPS) of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi (KNUST), in its effort to prevent the spread of the Novel Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19), has produced affordable alcohol-based hand sanitizers for the University Community and the general public.
University of Cape Town
The University of Cape Town (UCT) is playing a key role in tracking infected persons of the coronavirus in South Africa. Various efforts have also been put into generating reliable data on infection rates and modeling.
A dashboard (Covid-19 Stats SA) on daily infections has been created while researchers from the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics are working on the epidemiological modeling of COVID-19 in Cape Town to assist in efforts aimed at combating the virus in the city.
Scientists at the Biopharming Research Unit at the University of Cape Town using the DNA and poxvirus and cell culture and plant production approaches to develop candidate vaccines for SARS-CoV-2 S protein and its related genes.
There are other efforts to develop antibodies for COVID-19, for instance, by mining monoclonal antibody genes from survivors and the establishment of immunoassays and enzyme immunoassays for antibody detection for sero-surveillance.
University of Ghana
Scientists at the University of Ghana have successfully sequenced the genome of the coronavirus in Ghana.
The feat, which was achieved through collaboration between scientists from the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research and the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens, represents an important milestone in understanding the variations of the virus.
The Noguchi Memorial Institute, which is one of two facilities initially designated for testing COVID-19, remains Ghana’s primary testing facility for all suspected COVID-19 cases, accounting for over 80% of tests nationally.
The University of Ghana Medical Centre (UGMC) has a new 617-bed teaching hospital which is now used as one of the quarantine centers for COVID-19 cases.
The Medical Centre in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and PharmAccess Foundation, recently introduced a new care coordination service app, to efficiently provide healthcare services for people with Covid-19.
The app, CovidConnect, will offer individuals a range of services including care management and monitoring, to patients.
University of Pretoria
The University of Pretoria in South Africa has a transdisciplinary team from its faculty of health sciences and the department of mathematics and applied mathematics that is engaged in modeling of the pandemic in South Africa. Pretoria also has a repository at the department of data science to provide real-time data on COVID-19 infections globally.
The university, through its department of medical virology, has also established a functioning and accredited COVID-19 testing facility to augment the number of testing facilities in South Africa, while the department of family medicine has developed a community-oriented primary care research unit which is engaged in various outreach projects including COVID-19 screening in rural communities.
The faculty of health sciences is providing support to homeless people in the Tshwane area as well as screening and testing for COVID-19.
In support of the efforts of front-line workers, the University of Pretoria’s MakerSpace Centre is producing 3D-printed visor frames to be used as facial shields by health workers in Gauteng.
At Rhodes University in South Africa, a team from the Sterile Products Laboratory in the faculty of pharmacy initiated the production of WHO-accredited hand sanitizers to meet its own needs and that of hospitals and facilities within the province when suppliers failed to deliver. With support from the private sector, the team aims to produce 300-450 liters a day.
Africa has the lowest number of ventilators in the world. As in other parts of the world, there is great interest in ventilators. A faculty member at Rhodes University in South Africa, Professor Justin Jonas, joined a national task team as a technical advisor to produce ventilators for South Africa.
Rhodes is also fast-tracking efforts to develop a low-cost and rapidly deployable ‘Ambu-bag’ ventilator and work on the adaptation of existing ventilators to cater for up to 10 patients at a time.
Addis Ababa University
At Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, a COVID-19 research working group comprising faculty from different colleges and research institutes has been allocated an amount of ETB10 million (US$307,000) by the state. Their focus areas include psycho-social and economic impacts, epidemiological and clinical, molecular epidemiology, vaccines, and diagnostics development.
At Addis Ababa University, faculty of the university form part of the national COVID-19 task force working with the Ministry of Health. They are involved in providing advice, supporting evidence generation and provision as well as mounting surveillance in health facilities and burial sites.
Addis Ababa University is also now producing PPE including face shields and bubble helmets to be used by health workers and patients.
The Ministry of Health in Ethiopia (a ministry once headed by current WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus from 2005–2012) has earmarked the university’s lab facility at the Aklilu Lemma Institute of Pathobiology as a center for testing potential COVID-19 cases in the country.
University of Lagos
As part of efforts to support information gathering on infections, the University of Lagos’ Centre for Information, Technology and Systems (CITS) has developed a website that provides live updates on COVID-19 cases by State in Nigeria.
Also, the Faculty of Pharmacy has produced and donated hand sanitizers to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital to bolster efforts aimed at fighting the Coronavirus in medical institutions.
Furthermore, given the urgent need for respirators for supportive care across the various States in Nigeria, the University is fast-tracking efforts to develop a low cost and rapidly deployable Ambubag ventilator as well as work on the adaptation of existing ventilators to cater for up to ten patients at a time.
University of Nairobi
Kenya’s University of Nairobi has initiated a public blog and webinar series on COVID-19 which highlight preventive measures and offer options to deal with various COVID-19 related social challenges.
The University has been selected to play a leading role following the selection of Kenya by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a testing site for vaccine trials. A team of virus specialists from the university form part of a national task force.
Research conducted by Makerere University in Uganda has detected coronaviruses in bats that live near humans in Rwanda, while studies by researchers at the University of Nairobi, in Kenya have found that 10% of bats carry coronaviruses.
The school of public health at Makerere University is collaborating with Kiira Motors Corporation and the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation in Uganda under the Resilient Africa Network project to develop open design low-cost ventilators to meet local demand.
In terms of public education, Makerere University has developed an online Coronavirus Resource Centre to provide comprehensive and fact-based information on the virus to the public and policy-makers.
The university’s school of public health, in collaboration with the Ugandan Ministry of Health, designed and organized a training and sensitization event for organizations on preparing the workplace for COVID-19.
University of the Witwatersrand
At the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in South Africa, an interdisciplinary team of researchers led by Professor Bruce Mellado from the school of physics has developed an intuitive and interactive dashboard to track and model the spread of the virus based on information from local sources, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the WHO.
The dashboard provides a day-by-day account of the tests and recorded infections and nuances in the data by province. The dashboard also tracks demographic information related to the cases and various transmission routes.
Concerning testing, Wits, in partnership with the private foundation Gift of the Givers, has opened a COVID-19 testing station on the Braamfontein Campus. For a small facilitating fee, referred potential patients can get a test from the center. The facility has a turnaround time for results of between 24 and 48 hours
Engineers and students at the faculty of engineering and the built environment at Wits have been involved in producing face shields and breathing assistance devices for use at local hospitals.
University of KwaZulu-Natal
University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) was the first to launch a COVID-19 University Intervention in Africa. In March 2020, they launched a ground-breaking Campus Health “War Room” to support international efforts to fight the deadly Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
Later, a team of world-renowned scientists based at the University launched a fundraising campaign to support the analysis of Covid-19 data – which could provide vital research and insight on the spread of the virus across both South Africa and globally as the world battles to contain the devastating pandemic.
KwaZulu Natal’s Research, Innovation, and Sequencing Platform (KRISP) and the Big Data Flagship Programme of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) has a multi-disciplinary team of world-renowned experts which mainly focuses on analysis and control of viral outbreaks and genomic analysis.
They have produced five of the six Covid-19 viral genomes in the country, which clearly showed how the virus was introduced into South Africa.
University of Johannesburg
The University of Johannesburg’s multi-disciplinary team of engineers and health-care practitioners have teamed up and identified a three-pronged approach to contribute towards efforts to fight the novel virus.
This project, spearheaded by Dr Deon Sabatta and Dr Samson Masebinu will first work with the prototyping and development of open-source ventilators.
They also engage with local hospitals and relevant industry associations to support repair and maintenance efforts to bring out of warranty equipment into service and make rapid prototyping facilities available to enable PPE manufacturing.
While UJ does not have the capacity to mass manufacture these medical machines, it plans on developing a prototype and sharing its work with the rest of the world.
At the university, several notable efforts have gone into the production of personal protective equipment, innovative tools for patient management and treatment therapies.
For instance, the 3D printing laboratory of the Division of Orthopaedic Surgery at Stellenbosch University has been repurposed to print and assemble much-needed visors for front-line workers.
Also, food scientists made 18 litres of alcohol-based hand sanitiser from stale bread crumbs in an in-house fermentation tank.
Additionally, a Professor of Pulmonology at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) has produced a Double Robotic robot that allows medical staff to perform ward rounds virtually, especially among intensive care patients, thereby protecting medical staff from the risk of infection.
Again, Stellenbosch University (SU) and a South African biotechnology company have partnered towards the development of human therapeutic proteins which they hope will assist in the treatment of patients with severe effects related to the COVID-19.