By Mary Hearty

The COVID-19 pandemic is a wake up call for Africans to become self-reliant not only in research and development for drugs and vaccines but also diagnostics and other essential things, expert says.

Dr Bernhards Ogutu, Chief Research Officer with the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) and Senior Clinical Trialist with the Malaria Clinical Trials Alliance of the INDEPTH-Network, made these remarks during a virtual conference themed: Science Policy Engagement to Support Evidence Informed Policy Responses to COVID-19 in Africa, hosted by Africa Academy of Sciences (AAS), where he talked on Drugs and Vaccines Clinical Trials.

He observed that a number of countries are manufacturing various commodities used in the fight against COVID-19 in Africa such as masks, ventilators and sanitizers.

Dr. Ogutu called for independence on essential commodities around research, saying:  “This is where we need to move some of our basic science with regards to processes and reagents that we badly need, and can make within our research institutions, and even start biotech platforms in the regions that can get these done.”

He added that scientists can learn how to do clinical trials online, using the already existing clinical trial networks and platforms for other diseases across the region. These are what have been used in setting up drugs used in COVID-19 treatment, yet some of them are for malaria, HIV/AIDS, Neglected Tropical Diseases, among others, Dr. Ogutu noted.

“We have used a lot of existing frameworks like those brought in by Ebola as they are conversant with the way we do clinical trials. The infrastructure in some of the facilities and research centres already exist, we just need to repurpose them,” he said.

Additionally, Dr. Ogutu stated that a number of the facilities have health and demographics surveillance platforms with characterized population that can be latch on and used to quickly characterize the trends of the disease to support COVID-19 clinical trial.