Ghanaian scientists embrace the LUMP Technology to improve COVID-19 testing

By Jessica Ahedor

SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is continually wreaking havoc on many nations across the globe, and countries in the African sub-region with infrastructure deficits in health are not spared by the pandemic. Ghana is one such nation that has a weak health system, most especially in the area of requisite tools and the needed technologies to carry out routine testing of its populace in the wake of the pandemic.

Available data by the Ghana Health Service reveals that when the partial lockdown ended on April 19, 2020, an estimated 86,000 people had been traced and 68,591 tested. Out of the 68,591 tests, there were 1,042 positive cases, 9 deaths, and 99 recoveries. But experts say the country could have performed better because it is believed that many cases were left unrecorded and untested due to the limitations in the technological tools and other materials required for work at the time.

Molecular or antigen testing are essential for identifying who needs to be treated and isolated, while antibody tests give an idea of how the infection has spread through a population. For an identification of SARS-CoV -2 cases, which relies heavily on molecular testing to detect the genetic make-up of the virus, a polymerase chain reaction popularly known as (PCR test) is used. Although the PCR-based diagnostic procedures are commonly used for pathogen detection because they are reliable and accurate, it is sophisticated in nature and usually requires the assistance of a technical experts to run it.

In addition, they are not cost-effective, thereby limiting capacity for testing – unless it is urgent for those in critical conditions and those travelling. Felix Kwateng is one of such people who have to do the PCR because he got admitted after contracting COVID.

“For me, if not that my case was severe, I would have gotten some medications and I will be okay. Unfortunately for me too, I have an underlining condition and it became worse to a point that I was hospitalized,” Kwateng said.

“The price for the test is just too much and I have to do it two times,” he asserted.

According to Samuel Amoah, deputy medical laboratory technician at the UCC Hospital, not only are the tests expensive, they are also not readily available at the closest facility to many clients.

“We at the University hospital can use the Central Regional Hospital, which is closer, for the tests, but they don’t have the machines, so, we have to send the samples to Korle-bu Teaching Hospital in Accra before testing. At first it was Noguchi that was doing that for us in addition to others and this has resulted in delays in receiving the results,” he bemoaned”.

But Samuel Asamoah Sakyi, a scientist at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, says with the help of European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) program, the issue of delayed results, distance and cost of testing, will be over soon.

This, he indicated, if the standard and regulatory authorities approve the new innovative form of molecular testing, known as ‘loop-mediated isothermal amplification’ (LAMP), which is cheaper and easier to use than PCR.

For him, the AfriDx project is an innovative molecular testing platform, known as PATHPOD, that is accurate, easy to use at point of care, and gives results within an hour. It is also developing novel ‘dipstick’ tests for detecting different types of SARS-CoV-2-specific antibodies, he explained.

According to Sakyi, “We have tried this and the results are impressive this will go a long way to help address most of the challenges we face as a country with testing.”

This public– public partnership (PPP), will go a long way to support Ghana and the entire African continent to reduce the disease burden in the wake of any future outbreak, he added.

Research assistant at KCCR, Richmond Gorman, says the new testing tool comes in handy to help decentralize testing to all the Regional and district laboratories, thereby reducing workload on the two major facilities as seen at the peak of the pandemic.

“I have tried both tools and the LUMP comes in handy to help offload workload, especially when we have many samples to test. Having this at the district hospitals across the country, our work will be minimal,” he submitted.

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