Uganda launched a rapid COVID-19 antibody test that developers hope can help doctors track the virus more widely across Africa. The test, which requires a finger prick to draw blood, was developed by a team at Makerere, Uganda’s oldest public university, with partial funding from the French Embassy. Ugandan scientists draw their diagnostic expertise from long experience with infectious diseases such as HIV and Ebola.
“This is a point-of-care test that can be used within equatorial Africa village settings, remote areas where there’s no laboratory, there’s no electricity, there’s no expert,” said Misaki Wayengera, a researcher at Makerere’s Department of Pathology.
“We’ve had a history of developing rapid tests for infectious diseases. … So when COVID came, we were like, ‘OK, we have the skills, why don’t we do this,’” said Wayengera, who also helped invent a rapid test for Ebola.
The kits work by detecting two antibodies, immunoglobulin M and immunoglobulin G, triggered when someone is infected with COVID-19, Wayengera said before the launch at Mulago, Uganda’s national referral hospital.
Makerere partnered with local company Astel Diagnostics Uganda, a World Health Organization-certified manufacturer, to make an initial batch of 2,400 tests. Wayengera said they are talking to bigger investors about larger commercial production.
The kit, which has been approved by Uganda’s state-run National Drugs Authority, has an accuracy rate of 70%, he said, but researchers hope eventually to raise that to 90%.
Although rapid testing is seen as key to combating COVID-19, many countries have struggled to find a cheap and easily available point-of-care diagnostic tool for mass testing.