The MINUSCA Rwanda Contingent has donated a COVID-19 screening device to the Central African Republic (CAR). The machine will accelerate testing of suspected cases of infection as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country reached 94 over the past few days.
The device – valued at approximately USD 200,000 – is used for molecular diagnosis of COVID-19. The process involves the testing of oral swabs to confirm infection with the coronavirus disease.
The equipment was handed over to the National Biology Laboratory of Bangui on 17 April 2020. It will help ramp up the CAR Ministry of Health’s efforts to identify infected people in order to stop the spread of the virus and save lives.
“Our laboratory was not equipped to deal with the proper handling of COVID-19 samples at the onset of the pandemic. The institution’s sole machine with the capacity to conduct tests had long been dysfunctional,”said Laboratory Director, Dr. Clotaire Donatien Rafai.
“Thanks to the collaboration with MINUSCA, the diagnostic equipment we have received allows us to detect the genetic material of the coronavirus. We have also been able to construct testing facilities that meet World Health Organization (WHO) safety guidelines within a space of less than two weeks with the assistance provided,” *he added.
Support from the Government of the Republic of Rwanda also included the training of 14 laboratory technicians (twelve men and two women) with a background in molecular biology on the use of the device and the provision of personal protective equipment.
Rwanda Contingent Medical Service Chief, Colonel John Paul Bitega, spearheaded efforts to establish how Rwanda could lend a hand to the Central African Republic in addressing the coronavirus crisis:“We strongly believe in South-South cooperation in Africa. The screening equipment will give CAR national autonomy to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. The machine has the capacity to analyze 90 tests in a couple of hours.”
Suspected cases of infection are referred to the CAR Ministry of Health, which sends test samples to the laboratory. The trained laboratory technicians are also sent out to take samples of people with COVID-19 symptoms. Samples are now being brought into the laboratory for testing from across the country. Testing is free of charge.
Christelle Bobossi, Chief of the Molecular Biology Unit, is on the frontlines of COVID-19 testing. She describes it as“painstaking work that involves decontamination of test kit samples, verifying the personal information on the samples and deactivation of the virus followed by meticulous testing. Test results are typically shared within 48 hours.”She emphasized that testing is key to protecting family, friends and the wider community.
Almost 300 tests have been conducted at the laboratory so far – six of them were positive.
According to Dr. Rafai, the donated equipment is all the more significant as it will enable the laboratory to reinforce its capacity in other key areas.“With a few adjustments, the screening device can be used to diagnose other diseases such as yellow fever, rubella, Ebola and meningitis.”
The equipment will, furthermore, boost the laboratory’s capacity to conduct research and train other health personnel. Together with the French-supported Institut Pasteur in Bangui, the National Biology Laboratory now constitutes one of only two diagnostic institutions with the capacity to conduct COVID-19 testing in the Central African Republic, thanks to the donation.