A shortage of test kits has undermined SA’s early response to the coronavirus crisis, but a local biotechnology firm is stepping up to try plug the shortfall in testing capacity.

CapeBio Technologies, a privately held company that was spun out of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in 2018, plans to roll out 5,000 test kits a day from the end of July, with support from the government.

The kits will produce results within two hours, down from the three to four hours taken by the imported kits available in the market at present, CapeBio CEO Daniel Ndima said.

“We are not here to say that we will replace imports. But at least we can reduce the backlog meaningfully,” said Ndima, a scientist and also the co-founder of the company.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said shortages of test kits are a challenge in Africa. For SA the situation has been compounded by a weaker rand that has meant spending more on imports, straining an already stretched budget.

At the end of May, the country was facing a backlog of more than 96,000 unprocessed cases awaiting coronavirus tests, according to the health ministry.

At 5,000 tests kits a day, CapeBio could meet about 10% of the country’s current daily testing capacity.

Confirmed cases of coronavirus passed the 100,000 mark in June, making SA the hardest-hit country on the continent.

The government is expecting the number of cases to rise ahead of a predicted peak in August and September and higher infection rates in densely packed, poor townships.

“We knew we could produce an indigenous solution to the Covid-19 crisis in SA using some of our existing technologies,” Ndima said.

CapeBio, with a team of 11, will supply the kits to the government but also expects demand from other companies globally, he said.


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