African health-tech startup, 54gene, has launched a fund to tackle the current challenges around testing for COVID-19.
Within 24 hours after opening the fund with a donation of USD 150 K, 54gene has already secured an additional USD 350 K from partners including Union Bank, valuing the fund at USD 500 K (NGN 185 Mn) currently.
The Nigeria-based genomics research, services, and development company says it wants to support the ongoing efforts of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
The money raised will help increase COVID-19 testing capacity in the country by up to 1,000 additional tests a day. The funds will be used to purchase testing instruments and the required biosafety materials such as biosafety cabinets and personal protective equipment needed to keep frontline healthcare workers safe.
It is understood that ongoing discussions with other Nigerian institutions are currently taking place, as the company looks to raise enough to accelerate and expand to up to 5,000 tests per day.
By intensifying the testing process for COVID-19, 54gene hopes to help minimize the spread of the viral infection which has spread to over 170 countries across the globe, infecting 480,000+ persons and leading to more than 21,000 deaths worldwide.
“With the Nigeria COVID-19 Testing Fund, we are working in sync with the NCDC to make Nigeria’s public health an absolute priority during this global pandemic, which has left thousands dead or fighting for their lives,” says Dr. Abasi Ene-Obong, CEO of 54gene.
“We are extremely ambitious in our mission to expand the testing capacity for Nigeria, and expect to increase the present rate by at least 10X in the coming weeks.”
In Nigeria, confirmed COVID-19 cases have gone up to 51 with 1 death and 2 recoveries recorded so far. The NCDC has been coordinating with the Ministry of Health to contain the threat for weeks now. But there’s a perceived lack of capacity for handling a viral outbreak.
This may be why institutions like 54gene, and even players in the tech venture ecosystem, including CcHub and Ventures Platform, are stepping in.
Commenting on the gesture by 54gene, Director-General of NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, said, “This is the kind of support we need. Identify a problem, run with it and include a sustainability plan in your solution. We are very grateful for this new partnership with 54gene at a critical point in our health security.”
According to a press release seen by WeeTracker, the 54gene team is also making a call for a COVID-19 workforce trained in using qPCR instruments and other molecular diagnostics methods.
It is expected that funds raised will be channeled towards recruiting these people for a period of time to support existing public laboratories.
Working in unison with the NCDC and other stakeholders, 54gene’s team expects to start deploying the fund within days, purchasing vital testing equipment, to be used by medical professionals.
All equipment will be installed in public hospitals and laboratories across Nigeria. They will remain in situ once the current COVID-19 pandemic hopefully subsides, to be used by medical researchers and clinicians in case of any future outbreaks.
Additionally, there will be significant investment in providing training and support to medical professionals/ personnel and volunteers working in coronavirus testing sites across the country, ensuring the mass roll-out of effective and robust testing for tens of thousands more Nigerians.
This development comes only a few days after a shipment of COVID-19 testing kits and protective gear donated by Chinese Billionaire, Jack Ma, arrived in Nigeria. The bulk shipment donated to African countries by Ma had first landed in Ethiopia on Sunday, March 22.
Earlier this month, 54gene was named one of Africa’s top 10 innovative companies by Fast Company. The startup is still accepting contributions to the COVID-19 Testing Fund through this link.
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