Bulawayo, (New Ziana) – The National University of Science and Technology (Nust) is set to start producing polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test kits used in Covid-19 diagnosis, an official said on Tuesday.
At the moment, Zimbabwe imports the test kits, and Nust’s venture will not only save foreign currency for the country, but also lower costs, and make these more widely available.
A Covid-19 PCR test costs about US$60 in private health institutions, but the Nust product will retail for about US$20, increasing affordability for the public.
Nust’s PCR test kits will also be used for various other medical and veterinary applications, including HIV tests, and is the latest outcome of the government’s drive for universities to become innovation hubs.
So far, of the tens of thousands of Covid-19 tests that have been done in the country, 359 663 were PCR tests and the rest were antigen and rapid diagnostic tests (RDT).
Nust’s director of the Applied Genetic Testing Centre, Zephaniah Dlamini, said: “Through assistance from the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Nust will be acquiring a DNA synthesizer machine which will be used to produce the kits. Nust will produce about 50 000 PCR kits weekly and currently the country conducts about 15 000 Covid-19 weekly.”
“The applied DNA testing lab was asked by Government to assist in the testing of Covid-19 up to about November last year and we were doing the first wave of the virus. During that time we were testing people from the southern region which includes Bulawayo, Masvingo, Midlands, Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South provinces,” he said.
He said about 40 000 Covid-19 samples were processed at the university’s laboratory, which is at Mpilo Central Hospital.
“After having used so many kits from different companies, we realized that one of the kits was developed and made by one university in China. We realized there isn’t much in terms of what goes into the kit which made us think in other terms as we are known for.
“The important component that we noted was the PCR primer which is a unit or molecule used to detect Covid DNA. So we concluded we needed to have a developed capacity to manufacture these primers. So we asked for help from the Government through the Ministry of higher Education to get us a DNA synthesizer,” said Dlamini.