The Federal Government has announced the indigenous development and validation of RNA Swift, a test kit for the identification of SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent for COVID-19, to accelerate the capacity to test people and help effectively manage the coronavirus pandemic in the country.
At a media conference on Thursday in Abuja, the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, said, “The RNA Swift has amazing precision for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 and will be commercially available at a price that places it ahead of competitors in terms of sensitivity and affordability”.© ASSOCIATED PRESS Passengers wearing face masks to protect against coronavirus observe social distancing, at the departure hall of the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos Nigeria, Thursday July 9, 2020. Nigeria officials resumed domestic flights on Wednesday following months of closure to curb the spread of coronavirus . (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
According to Onu, the RNA Swift was borne out of the need in the agricultural sector to test Nigerian farmers and labourers.
He further disclosed that in the coming months, five million farmers would be tested with the RNA Swift kits from the first 10 million kits to be produced.
He described the development of the testing kit as “Nigeria’s gift and contribution to help Africa and the world in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic”.
Onu confirmed the support of the African Development Bank to the project.
According to him, “I want to confirm to you that the RNA Swift product team is in consultation with the African Development Bank for the funding of an African-wide testing programme for COVID-19 and the establishment for RNA Swift production in Nigeria.”
He said the development of the test kit was as a result of careful planning and strategic investments of the ministry’s departments and agencies.
He commended the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Federal Ministry of Finance, the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Sheffield University, scientists, and the organised private sector for their collaborative efforts in the development of the testing kits.
Earlier, the Minister of Agriculture, Alhaji Sabo Nanono, said his ministry was working hard to ensure food security in the country by supporting the fight against the spread of COVID-19.
He said his ministry would continue to be in the forefront of the fight against the pandemic by ensuring that the newly developed testing kit was made available to test over five million farmers across the country.
The Acting DG of NABDA, Prof. Alex Ukpa, said the invention of the RNA Swift testing kit will improve testing and bring the power of large scale and precise testing closer to Nigerians.
He added that this approach would enable Nigeria and Africans at large get the needed attention to survive the pandemic.
Fears As Over 400 Health Workers Test Positive For COVID-19
Meanwhile, there were strong indications on Thursday that the emergence of coronavirus in Nigeria is taking a toll on the health sector as over 400 workers have tested positive for the virus.
Joy Josiah Biobelemoye, national chairman of the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU), revealed the trend in the sector at a ceremony held in Abuja to flag off the distribution of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to state councils of JOHESU.
He, however, assured that despite the spike in infections, health workers would not relent in protecting the citizens.
He noted that the situation on the ground called for drastic solutions, hence the decision of the union to take it upon itself to distribute PPE to her members.
“Since the outbreak of COVID-19, over 400 members of JOHESU have been infected by coronavirus, we also need to support our own members who are working and sacrificing their lives for the generality of Nigerians,” Biobelemoye stated.
Among PPEs to be distributed across 38 state councils of the union are 50,000 pieces of face masks, 15, 200 pieces of sanitizers, 2000 pieces of disinfectants, and 1,200 pieces of hand wash.
Meanwhile, Aliyu Mohammed, Director, Human Resources, who represented the permanent secretary, Ministry of Health, Abdulaziz Mashi, said the challenges that COVID-19 had thrown up in the health sector was becoming overwhelming, hence the Federal Government was appreciative of any donations made by public spirited Nigerians towards curbing the pandemic.
He noted that for some unusual reasons Nigeria had been able to brace up to the challenges better than other advanced countries with technological ingenuity.
He said: “The emergence of COVID-19 has changed the way we live our lives and the health system in general, such that even the developed countries have been overwhelmed, talk less of Nigeria.
“The virus has affected the economy drastically, hence the government cannot meet all the challenges that have been thrown up; that is why we welcome such donations by the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria.
“We have many frontline health workers taking up these challenges on behalf of other Nigerians and the Federal Government is always appreciative of these efforts; so, we crave your understanding and more support to improve on our health care delivery in the country.”
Earlier, the general secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Emmanuel Ugboaja, said health workers deserved commendation for being the first set of people to raise awareness on COVID-19 and its preventive measures.
He said when many Nigerians saw health workers putting on face masks, they became aware of the seriousness of the virus and the need to stay safe.
“Medical and health workers were the first set of people that produced face masks and other PPEs and started distributing them to Nigerians,” he stated.