Makerere University hospital to start coronavirus testing

The Vice Chancellor of Makerere University, Prof. Barnabas Nawangye in his first press conference via zoom on April 21, 2020

Kampala, Uganda – Makerere University hospital is set to start conducting coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing, making the institution the second in the country to conduct such tests.

Makerere University vice chancellor, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, says they have already received some 40,000 testing kits from donors.

In a virtual press conference today, Nawangwe said that they are currently finalizing details for implementation, which will enable them to start performing PCR based molecular tests, the same as currently being performed solely by the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI).

Nawangwe said Makerere is in advanced stages of developing much cheaper and faster test kits that will not need a laboratory like the existing test kits.

According to Nawangwe, researcher and virologist, Dr Misaki Wayengera is leading the research into the cheaper tests that will take just five minutes to yield COVID-19 results.

“This kit should enable rapid testing for coronavirus and considerably lower the cost of testing currently standing at $65 which is obviously prohibitive for developing countries. Testing is an extremely important intervention in managing the spread of coronavirus but the tests at the moment are extremely expensive. Moreover, the existing WHO-approved kits for COVID-19 are premised on very comprehensive scientific data. It requires a laboratory, and demands technical expertise and it takes long 4-6 hours to yield results,” said Nawangwe.

Nawangwe says Makerere’s kit involves using a swab-tube dipstick to do an antigen test by use of a nasal sample and might even cost less than a dollar. He explained that with this quick test, once the nasopharyngeal sample is obtained, it’s placed back into its tube containing reagents that detect the virus surface protein.

“On shaking, a positive result will be visualized as formation of particles like what is seen when clear milk, goes bad,” he said.

While it’s still unclear when exactly this will be rolled out for general use, it comes at the time officials are struggling to have timely tests and confirmation for truck drivers who have become the country’s new biggest threat since positive cases are set to continue with their journeys as they await results from UVRI.

Addressing a press conference on Saturday, Health minister, Jane Ruth Aceng said mobile and rapid tests will come in handy to tackle the challenge.

For now, all the 58 cases so far confirmed in the country have had their samples transported to UVRI and results returned later.

Last month, Makerere University’s Arrows sanitizer produced by the pharmacy department, was among those blacklisted and ordered off shelves by the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) after failing an efficacy test.

Now, however, another sanitizer from the same university, Cleanmate has been approved and certified by UNBS. Makerere also announced that, pending approval, it would be rolling out its locally made ventilators in about 8 weeks from now.


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