Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

‘Nust well-equipped for Covid-19 tests’

By Mashudu Netsianda

The National University of Science and Technology (Nust)’s Applied Genetic Testing Centre has the capacity to test for coronavirus, the germ that causes Covid-19.
In an interview yesterday, the director of Nust Applied Genetic Testing Centre, Mr Zephaniah Dhlamini said they have machines that can perform diagnostic testing for Covid-19 but there are some requirements that must be put in place for the labotatory to start conducting the tests.

Currently, testing for Covid-19 is done at the National Microbiology Reference Laboratory (NMRL) at Sally Mugabe Central Hospital in Harare with confirmatory tests being taken to South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

President Mnangagwa, while announcing the total 21-day national lockdown last Friday to contain the spread of Covid-19, said testing would be decentralised to provincial hubs countrywide to expedite testing and diagnostic services.

“As Nust Applied Genetic Testing Centre, we have capability since we have WHO recommended real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing machines that can be used for qualitative and quantitative detection of Covid-19 RNA from various samples. Most importantly, our personnel have nucleic acid extraction, amplification abilities and analysis capabilities,” Mr Dhlamini said.

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“We have sent a list of requirements to the Government before we can do the testing,” he said.

Mr Dhlamini said Covid-19, being a highly infectious agent, must be handled in a bio-safety level 3 (BSL-3) environment and Nust does not
have such facility.

He, however, said they have since initiated discussions with Mpilo Central Hospital, which has the requisite BSL-3 facility as well as numerous BSL-2 cabinets at its national TB reference laboratory.

“The university has already initiated discussions with Mpilo Central Hospital National TB Reference Laboratory and offered to move their machines to the hospital for virology laboratory and work with Mpilo staff so that all the diagnostic processing is done at one place,” said Mr Dhlamini.

Diagnostic testing for Covid-19 is critical to tracking the virus, understanding epidemiology, informing case management, and to suppress transmission.
Government is considering using State universities’ laboratories for testing coronavirus disease (Covid-19) as part of efforts to widen
the scope in the fight against the deadly global pandemic.

Chronicle is in possession of a letter from the Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development,
Professor Amon Murwira dated March 19, 2020.

The letter, which is addressed to the Minister of Health and Child Care Dr Obadiah Moyo and copied to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development Prof Fanuel Tagwira and the Vice-Chancellors of Nust, University of
Zimbabwe (UZ) and the Midlands State University (MSU).

According to the correspondence, Cabinet discussed the possibility of using university laboratories for the purpose of testing coronavirus.

“In this regard, the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development hereby invites the Ministry of Health and Child Care to carry out a fit for purpose survey of laboratories at the UZ, MSU and Nust or any other institution of higher learning that the Ministry of Health and Child Care may choose, with view of making use of them,” read part of the letter.

Contacted for comment, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Dr Agnes Mahomva said it was important to join hands in combating Covid-19.

She, however, said Government was still assessing on issue of partnering State universities.

“We are still trying assessing to find out whether we can partner with the universities and this is actually part of what we do when we have massive disasters such as Covid-19 outbreak during which we will be faced with a lot of challenges. We assess a whole lot of other things and we will share with you at the appropriate time,” she said.

The world is reeling under the devastating effects of Covid-19, which has so far claimed more than 30 000 lives globally with more than 600 000 people having been infected worldwide.

President Mnangagwa declared Covid-19 a national disaster and so far, the country has recorded seven confirmed cases with one death.

The pandemic, which was first reported in China’s Wuhan province in December last year, has spread rapidly throughout the world, forcing many countries to enforce lockdowns as measures to try and contain the spread of the global pandemic. The Chronicle