(CNN) — Scientists in Nigeria have developed a cheaper and faster Covid-19 test kit that will enable testing to be ramped up in a place that has faced kit shortages and chronic under-testing of a massive population, according to the country’s health authorities.
The new test is cheaper than other PCR tests — the most common type of test — and can give results in less than 40 minutes, the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) said.
The diagnostic test kit will cost less than $25 and samples can be analyzed using a mobile machine that can be operated by low-skilled personnel with minimal training, the agency said.
“We saw the need for more testing outfits, especially one that can give results in a short time because hospitals were refusing to treat patients without Covid-19 results,” Babatunde Salako, the director of NIMR, told CNN.
“The machine we use is not the common PCR one. We bought the machine and adapted the kit that we developed to work with this machine. It is meant for diagnosis of other pathogens,” Salako said.
Although Salako added that the detection rate of the NIMR test kit is “a bit lower than the PCR, but for the point of care, we believe it is good enough for now.”
Nigeria currently imports PCR test kits from China and has faced challenges in getting enough kits to test most of its population of 200 million.
“We thought this one was very important as it will diversify the way testing is done. With this one, all the people in villages and remote areas can be tested by moving the machine to those villages,” Salako, who has headed the agency since 2016, said.
So far, Nigeria has recorded more than 59,000 cases of Covid-19 and more than 1,000 deaths as of October 2, according to figures from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.
Health authorities also report a declining number of cases, with treatment centers, known as isolation centers, being closed in the country.
Nigeria has Africa’s largest population and has tested only about 500,000 people, according to figures from local health authorities. The PCR test is the most widespread and accurate diagnostic test for determining whether someone is currently infected with coronavirus.
However, the tests require specialized supplies, expensive instruments, and the expertise of trained lab technicians, which has led to shortages and a testing gap globally.
While testing in Nigeria is free in state-owned laboratories, there are few such facilities and they are only in major cities. And sometimes, health officials have had to transfer samples to other states to confirm results because of a shortage of kits.
“It has always been my concern and passion to see that Nigeria doesn’t have to take samples outside to diagnose. We have scientists who are capable of this if they have the necessary support. That was what led to a visit to Senegal and China. We had collaborations to train our people in pathogen detection, even before Covid started, we went in August and September 2019 to train our scientists.”
Salako said the test kits will be mass-produced once validated by the regulatory authorities — the Nigeria Center for Disease Control and the Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria. “We do not expect the validation to take so long.
“The only limitation is that we have to produce more samples of these kits and acquire some new machines that are key to our work. Once that is done, we can mass produce with government support and serve markets in all of Africa.”
In a separate announcement this week, the World Health Organization, working with several regional partners and donor agencies, said it had concluded plans to supply 120 million “affordable” and high-quality Covid-19 rapid tests to low- and middle-income countries, including in Africa.
The antigen rapid diagnostic tests, the agency said, would sell below $5.
Nigeria is not the first country to produce testing kits on the continent. In March, Senegal’s scientists worked with a UK-based laboratory to create a diagnostic test for coronavirus that can produce test results within 10 minutes.
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