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Preliminary work on coronavirus vaccine underway in SA

The University of Cape Town together with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research as well as the Biological and Vaccines Institute of Southern Africa started work on the development of a vaccine for the Covid-19 virus

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With the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus which has had a global impact, disrupting not only economies but proving to be one of the grave challenges the health sector has been faced with.

Taking that there is still no cure or vaccine for the Covid-19 virus, scientists as well as researchers from various parts of the world have started preliminary work on a coronavirus vaccine.

South Africa has started work on the development of a vaccine for the Covid-19 virus, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has said.

This project is being taken on by the University of Cape Town together with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research as well as the Biological and Vaccines Institute of Southern Africa.

In a response following President Cyril Ramaphosa‘s announcement of a 21-day lockdown to curb the spread of the virus, Nzimande said a number of existing drugs was currently being re-purposed and tested for efficacy, adding current international trials under the co-ordination of the World Health Organisation were being monitored.

Nzimande further added that “Progress is expected in about 18 months” 

“The South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis has been engaging with other data and modelling groups to refine its assumptions to produce an updated model of the spread of the virus.

This is expected to be completed by friday, Nzimande said.

In terms of diagnostic tools, he added it had become urgent to locally manufacture reagents for testing kits.

“These are currently being imported and the lockdown may threaten access to supplies.”

“The Department of Science and Innovation has negotiated the re-purposing of various facilities and labs to respond to the outbreak. The entities in line to assist include Biovac, Centres of Excellence in TB Research, Centre of Proteomic and Genomic Research and Afrigen Bio.”

“Discussions are underway to facilitate accreditation for some of the facilities to produce reagents. The team will be discussing budget requirements this afternoon.”

“For the above projects, the Department of Science and Innovation has already availed R12-million and will redirect an additional R30-million.”

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Universities

Gift of the Givers assists to curb Covid-19 testing backlog

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Doctor Raashika Tayob from Gift of the Givers. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA) (Edited)

As part of their contribution in helping to fight against Covid-19, the Gift of the Givers  have opened testing stations at the  Wits University Braamfontein Campus (Enoch Sontonga Road) to assist with the testing backlog.

What makes this process efficient is the 24-48 hours turnaround time to receive tests results.  Tests will be conducted in an NICD approved, SANAS accredited laboratory with feedback to the NICD electronically.

Information provided regarding testing process is as follows:

Who can be tested?

  • Patients must fit the NICD case definition criteria and must have a doctor’s referral before testing. This reduces contamination risk and contact time in the best interests of all concerned.
  • HPCSA rules require that the patient has to consult his/her OWN doctor if it’s a telephonic consultation or any doctor if it’s a face-to-face consultation.

Cost

  • The COVID19 PCR testing costs R750

Bookings and operating times

  • Testing is strictly by appointment only
  • Bookings: Call the toll-free number on 0800 786 911
  • Operating times:Monday – Friday: 07:45 – 17:00

Gift of the Givers manages the testing station, while Mullah Laboratories co-ordinates the sites and reports to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and provides results to the referring doctor.

“This is an initiative to assist with the national testing backlog. The more people who test, the better for all of us. You can get tested at public facilities but it takes longer to get a result”, said Shirona Patel, Wits University spokesperson.

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UWC steps in to help feed students during national COVID-19 lockdown.

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University of the Western Cape File picture: African News Agency (ANA)

When President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the shutdown of schools following the outbreak of Covid-19, many students were concerned that they could not go home and opted to remain in university accommodation.

The University of Western Cape (UWC) Students who opted to remain in university accommodation were faced with the issue of “not being fed.”

The University of the Western Cape stepped in to lend a helping hand, providing students with food.

The University has been praised for its “progressive decision”. On Tuesday, the  ANC in the Western Cape legislature welcomed the “progressive decision” by UWC to feed the 116 on-campus and 254 off-campus students during the national COVID-19 lockdown.

To sustain students during the lockdown, students have been receiving non-perishable foodstuffs from the UWC campus Foodbank as well as the one spaza shop on campus that remains open.

“We are grateful that UWC has indeed made the necessary arrangements to feed 116 students who are in on-campus (internal) accommodation and an additional group of 254 students who are in off-campus (external) accommodation. There are also international students in the group of 254,” the ANC said.

 ” We wish to once again call on the UWC SRC to ensure that those students using the university’s accommodation behave responsibly and also practice safety measures that will stop the Coronavirus from spreading.”

  

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CoviID, an app developed by UCT researchers to track coronavirus patients

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The spread of the Covid-19 virus is unpredictable and one of the biggest challenges has been the ability of the government to trace the physical contacts a person had once they test positive for corona.

Researchers at the University of Cape Town have come up with a smartphone app, which according to UCT’s researchers “could play an important role in managing future outbreaks of COVID-19 and economic recovery.”

“The problem with a lockdown is it works, but only for a short period of time,” explains Associate Professor Co-Pierre Georg. “There’s a huge demand for apps that allow governments to – among other things – trace the physical contacts a person had once they test positive for corona.”

The App, named CoviID was developed to address the management of future outbreaks of COVID-19, economic recovery, ” as well as a novel third functionality of incentivising people to practise good hygiene during viral outbreaks”, UCT said.

“We can use insights from behavioural economics to nudge citizens to engage not only in good health practices, but also good hygiene practices, including social distancing and self-isolation,” Kungela Mzuku, Standard Bank innovation developer .

“This will become a key preventive component for public health officials, and I am excited to see how the latest technology can help us achieve this in a privacy-preserving way.”

How the App works

  • Using Bluetooth and geolocation, CoviID will be able to track and trace the movements of an individual covering the two weeks prior to their testing positive for the virus.
  • To prove a user’s status – ( necessary for travellers)school children and university students, and for anyone to enter public spaces – the app will enable a verified healthcare professional to attest to their status once they have been tested.
  • The CoviID app will collect a user’s personal location and infection status and store it on their phone using a technology called self-sovereign identity – not on a centralised government or private-sector database. This provides the user with full authority and control over who gets access to the data, for what purpose and for how long.

“Designing this kind of app is not rocket science, and we’re not the first or only ones to do it,” says Georg. “The thing that makes us different, however, is the fact that we’ve designed this from a privacy-first perspective.”

The first version of the App is said to be released within the next three weeks.

Discussions are still underway between the researchers and various governmental role-players, creating awareness as well discussing plans associated with rolling out this project,with the goal of first rolling it out in South Africa, but ultimately all over Africa.

“The team has also made progress with possible private sector partners and has buy-in from MTN and Standard Bank already.”

“I think we can get through this together and come out stronger on the other side,” Georg concludes. “It’s also exciting to think that UCT could make a meaningful contribution during this crisis.”

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