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Before a Covid-19 vaccine, Senegal is controlling the virus by testing with a $1 device

As the coronavirus is spreading rapidly across the continent, the World Health Organization (WHO) has advised African nations to “prepare for the worst.”

According to a WHO official, cases in the world’s poorest countries could surge from thousands to 10 million across Africa in just three to six months.

This is just what Senegal has been able to do since deploying early-detection mobile kits developed at the Institut Pasteur. Tests detecting coronavirus are administered to anyone entering a health facility in the country.

Originally made to test for Dengue Fever, the test resembles pee-on-a-stick pregnancy technology and can detect the virus in only 10 minutes. Patients drop blood or saliva on the device and wait for a line to appear.

Image credit Bloomberg

Amadou Sall, director of the Institut Pasteur in Dakar, said, “There is no need for a highly equipped lab, it’s a simple test that can be done anywhere.”

“The idea is to rapidly-produce 2-4 million kits, not just for Senegalese people, but for African countries too so that we can detect and isolate patients quickly.”

“People will be able to do it themselves,” he said.

While the US declares it needs a technological breakthrough for mass Covid-19 testing, the Dakar lab is creating 4 million kits costing only US$1, each for instant testing.

In partnership with the World Health Organization, researchers at the Institut Pasteur have seen Africa through the Ebola outbreak and AIDS crisis and have fought viruses for over a century.

It appears that all this experience has paid off because despite the country’s minuscule health budget in comparison to world powers, two months into the outbreak Senegal has reported only 3 deaths. This means the country has the highest recovery rate in Africa and the third highest in the world.

Image credit Elabscience

Sall’s experience with Ebola proves that without a vaccine, in the early stages of an outbreak the strategy is to catch and contain.

Head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, reiterates Sall’s message, “We have not seen an urgent enough escalation in testing, isolation and contact tracing, which is the backbone of the response. We have a simple message for all countries: Test, test, test.”

In addition to the tests and strict lockdown guidelines, Senegal is lauded for taking yet another effective measure to keep the death toll down. With only 50 ventilator machines for an entire country of 60 million people, Senegalese engineers have begun 3D printing the machines to avoid a $16,000 price tag for each imported ventilator.

This certainly means that Senegal should be watched out more often.


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