Zimbabwe: Nust secures funding to purchase Covid-19 reagent manufacturing machine

The government has released around US$87,000 to the National University of Science and Technology (Nust) for the purchase of a Covid-19 reagent manufacturing machine.

The machine will allow the university to manufacture polymerase chain reaction (PCR) kits and the cost of Covid-19 testing will be reduced by more than 60%.

Currently, the successful test costs around US$60 and can go down to US$20 once the machine becomes operational.

In addition to making Covid-19 test kits, the machine can make reagents to test for many other diseases including HIV.

The development will save the country from importing the conclusive diagnostic test kit that determines whether one is infected by analyzing a sample of virus genetic material.

The new machine will also allow the country to detect various variants of Covid-19.

Nust will produce around 50,000 PCR kits per week while the country is making around 15,000 Covid-19 per week at the moment.

Minister for Higher and Higher Education, Innovation, Science and Technology, Professor Amon Murwira, said the government released the funds as it realized the critical role played by Nust in the fight against Covid-19.

“It is our responsibility to support the innovation center and one of the issues that Nust is dealing with is genetics. You know that Nust was the first in Bulawayo to convert the central hospital tuberculosis labs from Mpilo for Covid-19 testing. We’re going further to try and make some of the test materials. We’ve gone ahead and funded them to do it. That’s a lot of money. That’s enough to buy the machine, the amount doesn’t matter,” Professor Murwira said.

He said the money will allow Nust to import the machine and install it.

Professor Murwira said the purchase and installation of the machine was in the hands of Nust.

Director of Nust’s Center for Applied Genetic Testing, Mr. Zephaniah Dhlamini, said the machine would be delivered to the country in October.

He said that due to Covid-19 pressure, the manufacturer of the PCR manufacturing machine is struggling to clear a backlog. “They (the government) gave us €71,000 in US dollar equivalent (86,532.60 USD). The money is for buying a DNA synthesizer, also known as an oligomaker.

“This is a machine that makes primers which are the main reagents in PCR tests. DNA synthesizers are used to synthesize what we call short oligos and these are the key reagents in PCR reactions or tests “, did he declare.

“We will use this machine to synthesize primers to test Covid-19 and also detect different variants in Covid-19 samples. We can easily match the variant with primers. Essentially, we would now manufacture PCR test reagents.

Mr Dhlamini added: “So AGTC is taking it a step further than just testing, we say, let us make reagents. This machine is used to make PCR primers among other things. We hope that when we start to manufacture these reagents, the Covid-19 tests will be reduced to approximately 20 to 25 US dollars.

At present, it costs individuals around US$60 to perform Covid-19 PCR tests.

He said the oligomaker would be the country’s first DNA synthesizer.

“He makes PCR primers, they can be used in so many things, we can make PCR primus for HIV testing and HIV viral load testing. Even in forensics, now we can make forensic PCR kits. legal to detect variations in wild animals like elephants etc. etc. The applications are endless,” he said.

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