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SA commits research funding to study coronavirus

Money will be redirected from other science areas, says government

South Africa has committed R4 million (US$240,000) for domestic research projects to curb the spread of SARS-Cov-2, the novel coronavirus behind the global pandemic, the Department of Science and Innovation announced on 17 March.

The research will focus on surveillance, therapies, local epidemiology, and viral history. The funding is not new but will be redirected from other DSI projects.

Blade Nzimande, the minister of higher education, science and technology, told a news conference on 16 March that a special sub-committee has been set up to “coordinate a national framework for research on Covid-19”. Nzimande is part of a group of ministers tasked with arresting the spread of the virus.

Nzimande said that the government is concerned that the country’s high incidence of HIV and tuberculosis might lead to a longer outbreak through “prolonged viral shedding”. This is why the DSI chose the research focus areas, he said.

More research funding may also be in the offing, Nzimande said.

“We are engaging with the Department of Health, the Medical Research Council, and the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority with a view of mobilising funding, reprioritising research strategies and creating an enabling ethical and regulatory framework to facilitate research on the Covid-19 virus,” he said.

Nzimande said that South Africa will look to join international research projects. The World Health Organization is coordinating a clinical trial of treatments currently in use on Covid-19 patients. International research efforts to find a vaccine are also ongoing, and South African clinical trial sites have been approached for first-in-human safety trials on healthy volunteers. 

As of 19 March South Africa has recorded 116 Covid-19 cases.