54Gene, an African genomics research, services and development company that specialises in research, and diagnostics has been inaugurated with a mandate to conduct not less than 1,000 COVID-19 tests per day in Nigeria’s North Western State of Kano.
Kano has become a huge COVID-19 concern, as it has become the state with the second highest number of confirmed cases across the country. As at May 2, the state recorded 313, next in absolute figures to Lagos which recorded 1068 out of the total 2,388 cases that returned positive after 17, 566 samples were tested across the country. Although this is a far cry from the current situation in Lagos, it remains a major cause of worry as Kano only recorded this much in 11 days since the index case was recorded.
The latest drive to speed up efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 has come with the support of Aliko Dangote Foundation (ADF), a philanthropic venture of Aliko Dangote.
Through a contractual agreement with 54gene Laboratory that was inaugurated on May 3rd in Kano, the foundation has already set up labs in Lagos and in Ogun States. It will start with a testing capacity of 400 tests a day, and later increase to 1,000 tests per day by May 10th. In Kano, the lab will be set up at Muhammadu Buhari Hospital in Kano, where an isolation center is currently operational.
Aside this, the laboratory has said it is launching research collaborations and commercial partnerships that will facilitate the study of African genetics to learn the underlying genetic drivers of disease affecting everyone globally. In addition, it is currently about to conduct studies in various Non-communicable diseases including Cancer, Endocrine disorders, Neuro-degenerative diseases, Cardiovascular disease, Sickle Cell Disease.
The President/Chief Executive of Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote who explained why the foundation is directly supporting the Nigerian government’s COVID-19 containment efforts across the country said the new investment in support of increasing nation-wide testing is in addition to ADF’s support through the Private Sector Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID).
“CACOVID is already setting up a 310 bed isolation center at Sani Abacha stadium in Kano. We are extending that capacity by another 150 beds at the Abubakar Imam Urology Centre in Kano, which is being converted into an isolation center now. These two centers will be operational pending the final validation by the Infection Prevention and Control team, which we expect will be completed in the coming days.”
Dangote pledged the Foundation’s commitment to reduce the number of lives lost to diseases, such as COVID-19, Ebola and other deadly viruses in the State.
He said the foundation would not relent in using its investments in health, education, and economic empowerment to help lift people out of sickness and poverty.
Speaking on the efforts of the Foundation to assist the Federal Government in curtailing the spread of COVID-19, the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of ADF, Zouera Youssoufou, added that ADF is also supporting the Rapid Response Teams in their work to identify suspected covid-19 cases across the healthcare centers in Kano. “ADF will immediately handover to the Kano RRT, 10 new ambulances (4 that are immediately available and 6 over the next week), two vehicles and PPEs to support the transportation of patients from different parts of the state”, she said.
She said that the Foundation is also supporting the Kano State Covid-19 contact call center that responds to citizen queries and concerns around Covid-19 and refers people to the proper place for follow up, by providing extra phone lines and ICT infrastructure as well as training for the call center staff.
Speaking on the collaboration, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of 54gene, Dr. Abasi Ene-Obong, said the 40ft structure built with container technology, provides a unique plug-and-play solution.
Ene-Obong explained that the mobile laboratory is also fully kitted with vital instruments including an autoclave, bio-safety cabinet, centrifuge, heating blocks, vortexes, pipettes, and PCR machines to support COVID-19 testing.
“Our mobile lab is fully equipped with all the vital instruments required for COVID-19 testing, and allows us to quickly offer our services to multiple states due to the ease of transport. Its unique plug and play feature eliminates the logistics of shipping samples to another location for the processing which reduces turnaround times for test results and allows clinicians to manage and treat patients accurately, sooner rather than later,” He stated.
Ene-Obong said the company has also helped build capacity by equipping molecular scientists with the necessary skill set required to handle the instruments in the mobile lab as they would in regular molecular testing laboratories.