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South Africa announces more funding for Covid-19 research

Image: Governor Tom Wolf [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

Funding to cover vaccine development and disease modelling, says Nzimande

More research funding has been promised for South Africa’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Blade Nzimande, the minister of higher education, science, and technology, told a 24 March news conference that R42 million (US$2.4m) has been redirected to Covid-19 research.

This includes funding for “preliminary work on the development of vaccines” against Covid-19 involving the University of Cape Town, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and the Biovac Institute, a partly state-owned pharmaceutical company. 

The South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis will receive funding to update models to track and predict Covid-19’s spread in South Africa.

Nzimande added that the Department of Science and Innovation is working towards local production of test kits, which will also receive a slice of the funding. He said the department had negotiated with facilities, including Biocav, centres of excellence in tuberculosis research, the Centre of Proteomic and Genomic Research in Cape Town, and health company Afrigen Biologics.

Nzimande added that the DSI is testing several drugs approved for other conditions as potential Covid-19 treatments.

A “central situational awareness platform” is also being established at the CSIR, Nzimande said, for rapid sharing and centralisation of Covid-19 data.

The South African Medical Research Council announced on 24 March that it will provide R13m for the anti-Covid-19 response. Of the funding, R8m will be used for disease surveillance at five hospitals, while R5m will be for genomic sequencing at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

The SAMRC said in a statement that more funding will be made available for research related to Covid-19, including clinical trials for potential treatments. “Genomic sequencing will help us to study the epidemiology of the diseases and to leapfrog technologies to develop treatments against coronavirus,” said Glenda Gray, the organisation’s head, in a statement.

Online learning on the cards for universities

Meanwhile, Nzimande has announced that all universities must complete a national survey of their capabilities of conducting online learning. The Department of Higher Education and Training and the Tertiary Education and Research Network of South Africa will then analyse results to support institutions requiring “immediate assistance to enhance their capability”.

Nzimande said that National Student Financial Aid payment will continue despite the shutdown currently in effect at all universities. He added that universities will announce at the end of March when they will reopen.

He also announced that Buti Manamela, the deputy minister of higher education, science and technology, will lead the national higher education Covid-19 task team which will coordinate the higher education sector’s response to the outbreak. Nzimande announced the intention to establish the task team last week. 

The team will consist of Universities South Africa, the South African College Principals Organisation, and the Higher Education and Training Health, Wellness and Development Centre, a national agency tasked with the health and well-being of students.