Equatorial Guinea carries out first successful test to detect coronavirus in Africa

Faced with the new challenge and threat from the coronavirus, the Government of Equatorial Guinea is fully immersed in the implementation of measures to combat the spread of the virus. The majority of countries in the world, following the guidelines from the World health Organisation (WHO), took the decision to place in quarantine those travelling from China, the country most affected by the outbreak.

One day before the introduction by the Government of the quarantine measures art Malabo International Airport, the first suspected case of coronavirus was detected. He was a 42-year-old Equatoguinean citizen and worker at one of the oil companies operating in the country, who had made a trip including stays in continental China, Hong Kong, Cambodia, and later Madrid, where he stayed for five days, before returning to Malabo.

This first suspected case presented symptoms similar to those associated with the coronavirus: fever, sore throat, coughing and sneezing, and general poor health. Although it was obvious that the affected person had surpassed the incubation period, the patient was kept in preventive isolation at the La Paz Clinic on 28th January, as a result of the need to prevent, above all, any possible spread of the virus. The Baney Research centre contacted their counterparts at the Swiss Institute for Tropical Medicine to request support. Furthermore, the patient had blood taken for the first time in order to send the samples to the Pasteur Institute in Yaunde in Cameroon, but they informed us that at that time they did not have the necessary reagents to carry out identification of the virus. The samples were re-sent 24 hours later to the Pasteur Institute in South Africa, up to that point the only centre recognised by the WHO to carry out the test, but they did not have the reagents either, and another 48 hours went by.

The isolation of this first case coincided with the identification of another suspected case in Ivory Coast some days before, which was treated with similar measures.

With a view to the need to confirm the diagnosis in the suspected case, the recently opened Baney Research Centre, with the support of the Swiss Institute for Tropical Medicine, and under the supervision of Professor Claudia Daubenberger, began the immediate search for reactants prepared for the diagnosis of coronavirus. Within two days Daubenberger, with the support of Dr. Tobias Schindler, and thanks to the support of the Ministry of Health from the Swiss Government, managed to obtain the reactants to carry out the test at the Baney research Centre. At the same time, the protocol for detection of the new type of coronavirus was prepared, in accordance with WHO standards.

Dr. Tobias Schindler arrived in the country on 30th January (two days after the request for support), and from the plane went to the La Paz Medical Centre for the extraction at 10 in the evening. The RT-qPCR diagnosis protocol was quickly started, and was carried out at the Research Centre at the Hospital in Baney. Four and a half hours later ( at three thirty in the morning), Dr. Tobias Schindler’s team, with the support of Dr. Max Mpina and Dr. Elizabeth Nyakarungo, after testing three different genetic markers, declared that the sample was negative for the Wuhan coronavirus, the virus causing the epidemic. This information was passed on, officially, to the Ministry for Health and Social Welfare (MINSABS) and through the ministry to the Government and the WHO, who confirmed hours later that the test had been carried out in accordance with approved WHO protocols, but that it was necessary to carry out a quality test at an external laboratory.

Thus, while everyone was trying to obtain reactants for the test for the illness, the Baney Research Centre was able to carry out the test for the first time in Africa. Two days later, the result was confirmed by the Pasteur Institutes in Dakar and South Africa.

Today, 3rd February, the patient is expected to be given the all clear. In the next few days a new batch of reactants will arrive in the country, which will allow the testing of over 100 people in the country, with results in five hours. This, combined with effective quarantine measures, will prevent the coronavirus from affecting the Equatoguinean population.

The rapid intervention of the team from the Baney Research Centre, with the support of the Swiss Institute for Tropical Medicine, meant that, for the first time in Equatorial Guinea, and one of the first times in Africa, the viral analysis of a possible suspected case was carried out in the country.

This opens the doors to positioning the Baney Research Centre as a benchmark laboratory in the region; a leader in the analysis and monitoring of epidemics of all types in this region of Africa. At the same time, the rapid reaction by the Swiss Institute for Tropical Medicine is a demonstration of the effective alliance between this prestigious institute and the country, leading to greater quality in the attention to epidemics and other threats.

The next step is joint work with the WHO for the certification of the Baney Research Centre as benchmark laboratory in the region. This is a gradual, demanding process, which will be backed by MINSABS, in addition to international bodies such as the NGO Medical Care Development International (MCDI) and the aforementioned Swiss Institute for Tropical Medicine.

At the same time, training will be necessary for a greater number of Equatoguinean laboratory professionals, which will allow the country to become a hub for research and innovation in public health for the region in the short term.

Source: Equatorial Guinea Press and Information Office

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