54gene, the African genomics research, services, and development company, has launched a fund to tackle the current challenges around testing for COVID-19 in Nigeria. To support the ongoing efforts of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control [NCDC], 54gene opened the fund by donating $150,000 and within 24 hours of launch, had already secured an additional $350,000 from partners including Union Bank. The money raised will help increase COVID-19 testing capacity in the country by up to 1,000 additional tests a day, by buying testing instruments and the required biosafety materials such as biosafety cabinets and personal protective equipment needed to keep frontline healthcare workers safe.
Ongoing discussions with other Nigerian institutions are currently taking place, as the company looks to raise enough to accelerate and expand to up to 5,000 tests per day. By intensifying the testing process for COVID-19, 54gene and funding partners plan to help minimize the spread of the infection, which has had a devastating effect on populations around the world. The team is also making a call for a COVID-19 workforce trained in using qPCR instruments and other molecular diagnostics methods, with the expectation that monies raised will be channeled towards recruiting these people for a period of time to support existing public laboratories.
Working in unison with the NCDC and other stakeholders, 54gene’s team expects to start deploying the fund within days, purchasing vital testing equipment, to be used by medical professionals. All equipment will be installed in public hospitals and laboratories across Nigeria and will remain in situ once the current COVID-19 pandemic subsides, to be used by medical researchers and clinicians in case of any future outbreaks. In addition, there will also be significant investment in providing training and support to medical professionals/ personnel and volunteers working in coronavirus testing sites across the country, ensuring the mass roll-out of effective and robust testing for tens of thousands more Nigerians.
Dr. Abasi Ene-Obong, CEO 54gene says, “With the Nigeria COVID-19 Testing Fund, we are working in sync with the NCDC to make Nigeria’s public health an absolute priority during this global pandemic, which has left thousands dead or fighting for their lives. We are extremely ambitious in our mission to expand the testing capacity for Nigeria and expect to increase the present rate by at least 10X in the coming weeks. In order to contain the spread of COVID-19, it is essential for us to know who has the disease, so we can put in place effective measures around quarantining confirmed cases.
“The rapid and assured response from some of Nigeria’s most reputable institutions, such as Union Bank, to join us in our fight against this deadly disease, is highly welcome and we thank them for their unwavering support. They, like us, understand the need for a multi-stakeholder, coordinated plan, that can be implemented almost immediately, as we work together as a community, side-by-side, to fight COVID-19 and protect our population.”
To date, the NCDC has recorded 51 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and the Nigerian Government has taken a number of important steps to control the spread of the disease, including imposing flight and travel restrictions, as well as producing stringent guidelines for mass gatherings and self-isolation.
Director-General of NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu adds, “This is the kind of support we need. Identify a problem, run with it and include a sustainability plan in your solution. We are very grateful for this new partnership with 54gene at a critical point in our health security”
Dr. Ene-Obong concludes, “As a matter of course, we advise that everyone follows the guidelines set by the World Health Organisation [WHO], by washing hands regularly and maintaining social distancing, in order to stop the spread of the disease. Our job, with the COVID-19 Fund, is to build the requisite infrastructure to ensure that testing can be conducted at scale, so together we can better control this virus before it takes hold in Nigeria.”