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DSI on Funding to COVID-19 Testing Ability

July 9, 2020

Department of Science and Innovation

The science and innovation department, the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) made seven funding awards to local companies, organisations and researchers in order to ramp up the country’s ability to produce locally developed reagents and test kits for COVID-19.

The department announced this in a statement on funding to Coronavirus COVID-19 testing ability.

The department added that the awards are valued at about R18 million with the funding recipients set to commence their responsibilities immediately with approximately six months to begin production.

“South Africa currently sources these reagents from international companies, but increasing global demand, fluctuating exchange rates and limited transport options are affecting the supply – resulting in an urgent need to source these components locally,” said higher education, science and innovation minister Nzimande.

According to the minister, South Africa’s capacity for identifying active cases of COVID-19 needs to be strengthened to allow for more effective contact tracing and quarantining.

“To do this, the country needs to reduce the turnaround time for diagnosing active COVID-19 infections by developing point-of-care (PoC) kits for rapid, direct detection of the coronavirus,” the minister emphasised.

In response to the DSI, SAMRC and TIA call for funding proposals, eight proposals were received for the development of diagnostic reagents, while 24 proposals were received for the development of PoC rapid detection kits.

The department pointed out that, following rigorous reviews by two panels, three funding awards were made in the first category, and four awards were made in the second category.

“These awards for local innovations will address bottlenecks in South Africa’s COVID-19 testing, through the development of reagents that can be locally manufactured for existing gold standard COVID-19 tests, as well as alternative, point-of-care (PoC) diagnostic kits that can rapidly detect the presence of SARS-Cov-2 viral proteins and/or particles,” said Minister Nzimande.

Meanwhile, the minister, in a statement, has outlined measures implemented by the National System of Innovation and Higher Education in response to the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

Feedback within the realm of science and innovation focused on the national system of innovation, South African Population Research Infrastructure Network launch of new urban nodes to improve COVID-19 response, support to governments testing drive, African natural medicines research, development and innovation, business innovation survey and international cooperation.

The minister pointed out that multiple interventions including the use of African Medicines as immune-modulators and anti-coronavirus therapeutics were being implemented.

The department has also “reassigned R15 million from existing Indigenous Knowledge projects to support Covid-19 interventions, and have submitted proposal for additional funding, especially for clinical studies, SMME support cultivation, agro-processing, and job creation”.

Progress and challenges in post school education and training initiatives includes the phased return of students, higher health, zero rating of education websites and data bundles, gadgets and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme Committee of Inquiry.