There’s nothing that brings people, communities and entities together quite like a common struggle. In the face of a global pandemic, collective effort and collaboration is essential when it comes to managing the ravages of the virus. While not without its setbacks and conflicts, in the search for a solution and simply everyday survival, we’ve seen unity manifest in almost every sphere – countries sharing knowledge and resources, governments partnering with private sectors, and individuals driving charitable initiatives to help strangers in need.
Not only does Covid-19 require long-term solutions but also short-term fixes that are helping communities stay afloat. Fortunately, necessity has sparked widescale innovation from individuals, corporates, NPOs and more. We take a look at two prominent solutions that are helping South Africa overcome the virus:
One such initiative has been the quick-thinking displayed by various health technology companies and public health organisations who have repurposed their existing disease testing facilities into Covid-19 response services.
Johannesburg-based health-technology start-up Zinacare, has done just this. “Before COVID-19, we were an online medical lab focused on DNA based molecular diagnostics for sexually transmitted infections,” says Chief Product Officer, Philip Mngadi.
Over the past two decades, South Africa has responded positively to outbreaks of numerous diseases such as Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, Trichomoniasis, HIV, Syphilis, Hepatitis B & C, and Herpes Simplex Virus which all required customised testing resources.
Thus, although Covid-19 has been classified as a new virus, it displays the same spreading pattern as previous pandemics dealt with by health organisations. This has opened the door for the repurposing of testing facilities.
Zinacare has taken this one step further by not only redirecting all their resources to fighting the virus, but also launching the innovative Covid-19 Drive-Thru Clinics. Here, patients can get tested without leaving their cars.
“The tests are done by our associate laboratory and the results are available in 24-48 hours. We then communicate the test results to patients through their doctors. We also assign a doctor to patients that test with us directly without a medical practitioner as a go-between,” he adds.
In an exclusive interview with Fast Company SA, Mngadi says the mobile testing unit was conceptualized after experimenting with various models for testing. “We like to set them up at shopping centers,” he revealed, and says that their first unit was situated at Kayalami corner in Johannesburg, which also currently their busiest site, averaging about 100 tests per day – up from just 3 tests a day four months ago. They then expanded to other areas in Gauteng including Pretoria and Sandton, but have no plans to broaden to other provinces at the moment.
However, the testing units that are available, Mnagi says, are helping to reduce the backlog of testing and availability of results. “The biggest contributor to undetected cases is the backlog of testing at government and private institutions, as well as the country’s financial disparity,” he adds.
Click below to listen to the full interview with Philip Mngadi.
At Zinacare’s innovative Covid-19 Drive-Thru Clinics, patients can get tested without leaving their cars.
In another attempt at a long-term, widescale solution, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Consortium launched a Covid-19 Clinical Vaccine Trial – which has now made its way to South Africa.
The consortium of union member states was released last month and forms part of the joint Africa continental strategy for tackling Covid-19. The strategy aims to minimise mortality rates as well the economic impact of the virus.
The vaccine to be trialed is expected to limit disease transmission, prevent deaths, and support socio-economic recovery in Africa. If successful, it will be available within the first quarter of next year.
The project is set to be funded by the South African Medical Research Council and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, while Wits University will be leading the charge with other global institutions.
The move to establish a consortium has been lauded by experts in the medical field. “It is good news that South Africa is running a vaccine trial. The aim is to have the vaccine in six months. We just have to hold our breath for better results after we have tried to find a vaccine for HIV/Aids for the past 20 years,” said Professor Tulio de Oliveira, director of KwaZulu-Natal’s Research, Innovation and Sequencing Platform (Risp) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
In another trial, headed up by Wits University Professor Shabir Madhi, developed by the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford, scientists are attempting to enroll at least 2000 participants in South Africa.
While the result of this vaccine has been promising in other countries, the “real test”, says Madhi, will come amid the South African population. This is due to the fact that the legacy of vaccines indicate that they do not necessarily work the same across different populations of race and socio-economic conditions.
Many vaccines of the past have proven to be highly effective in high-income populations, but when tested in low to middle income conditions, they were found to be much less effective, or in some cases, not effective at all.
Thus it is critical for the vaccine to be tested in South Africa in the early stages of evaluation – across multiple demographics – rather than wait until further into the programme to determine whether or not it will be beneficial for the people of South Africa.
Participation in the study is completely voluntary. The trial currently has over 200 participants and started out in Gauteng before moving into Cape Town earlier this month.
“There are a range of people representing different race groups and classes who come for volunteering, others have been turned away because of the numbers we have already received.
“We do not force people to form part of the study. People come on their own accord irrespective of their socio-economic status and race.
“The participants are well informed with what the study is about, once we are convinced that they fully understand we allow them to participate.
“The study is done where clinics and public hospitals are located,” Madhi said. However, those invested and partaking in the study will have to wait 12 months before the results of the trial can be determined. Participants will be followed up for 12 months to see whether the study has produced the required outcomes,” he said.
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