Covid antibody tests come to SA

Covid-19 rapid antibody test kits are now available in the country and will be a game changer in strategies to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. 

Josh Burger, the chief executive of MMed, a subsidiary of JSE-listed health company AfroCentric Group that was recently granted licensing rights to manufacture and distribute the kits, said South Africa needs to ramp up its testing capacity to deal efficiently with the pandemic.

Although the antibody tests cannot indicate immunity to the coronavirus, it is helpful in detecting how far it has spread in the population, says Burger.

The kits are about the size of a USB memory stick and use technology similar to a home pregnancy test. 

To test, a user pricks a fingertip and inserts a few drops of blood into the kit. Two drops of buffer are then dropped into the kit to allow the chemical process of identifying the antibodies to begin.


The kits provide results for two types of antibodies: immunoglobulin M (IgM) and immunoglobulin G (IgG). These antibodies are produced by the immune system to provide protection against the coronavirus. 

IgM is short-lived and remains in the body for about two to three weeks after infection has passed. IgG usually appear 14 days after the infection and can last for six months or several years, which means they are a stronger indicator of previous infection. 

Similar to a home pregnancy test, the results are indicated by coloured lines. One blue line indicates an invalid test. Two red lines indicate positive IgG presence, which means the person may have recently had an infection. Three red lines indicate the presence of both IgG and IgM, which indicates the person was infected with Covid-19 more than a month ago. 

Quinton Sofianos, the manager of a warehouse in Johannesburg, was able to discover this week that his body had developed IgG. Sofianos, who has chronic asthma, had contracted a severe case of Covid-19 in July, which required him to remain in isolation for 21 days.

After taking the antibody test using the rapid testing kits, his results came back within 15 minutes. 

But it is not known whether antibodies prevent another bout of Covid-19. The department of health’s guidelines on the use of antibody tests say there are various reasons for this, including a person’s insufficient sensitivity to antibody tests or a waning of antibodies over time and as “soon as 1-2 months in asymptomatic or mild cases”.

The mostly commonly used type of testing for Covid-19 in South Africa is polymerase chain reaction (PCR) where a patient is tested for signs of infection through nasal or throat swabs. Burger says the PCR method remains the gold standard for testing of Covid-19 because the virus is still in its early stages and active in the body. 

The rapid antibody test kits are only for healthcare practitioners and not for private home use. This is because all results of antibody testing must be recorded and reported to the National Health Laboratory Service.

MMed has already begun rolling out the kits to private healthcare groups, is in the process of finalising the distribution of the tests to public healthcare facilities and there has been interest from corporations with large workforces.

“In the mining industry, we have had orders and we are currently finalising the procurement process,” he says. 

Orders for the kits have also been received from nearby countries such as Malawi, Botswana and Mauritius.

At a cost of R199 a kit, it is more cost effective than the PCR test, which can cost up to R1 000 at private testing laboratories. MMed aims to drive down the cost to R70.

“As the volume grows on the demand … the cost of manufacturing will also go down and the price of the products is also expected to decrease, Burger says.

The MMed test kits are currently made in China by Zhejiang Orient Gene Biotech, which has intellectual rights to this technology. It takes two to five days to manufacture, which are then shipped to South Africa  the kits and can arrive in the country within 10 days. 

As of Monday, more than 4.4-million tests had been conducted in South Africa, with the infection rate at 693 359 and 17 863 people have died. 

Thando Maeko is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the M&G

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Thando Maeko
Thando Maeko is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the Mail & Guardian

Related stories

Entrepreneurs strike Covid gold

Some enterprising people found ways for their ventures to survive the strictest lockdown levels

Q&A Sessions: ‘My north star is the patient’

Rhulani Nhlaniki is Pfizer’s cluster lead for sub-Saharan Africa. As Pfizer starts phase III of the clinical trial of their Covid-19 vaccine candidate, he tells Malaikah Bophela that if it is successful, the company will ensure the vaccine will be available to everyone who needs it

World of vaccines is a ‘fiendishly’ complex one

It is important that Africa, along with other regions of the Global South, builds its own vaccine-manufacturing capacity

Hawks swoop down with more arrests in R1.4-billion corruption blitz

The spate of arrests for corruption continues apace in Gauteng and the Eastern Cape.

SANDF hid R200m expenditure on ‘Covid’ drug it can’t use

Military health officials are puzzled by the defence department importing a drug that has not been approved for treating coronavirus symptoms from Cuba

Eastern Cape universities concerned by rising Covid cases

Fort Hare says 26 more students have tested positive while Walter Sisulu University says some of its students have been admitted to hospital.
Advertising

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Entrepreneurs strike Covid gold

Some enterprising people found ways for their ventures to survive the strictest lockdown levels

Ithala backs its embattled chairperson

Roshan Morar is being investigated in connection with KwaZulu-Natal education department backpack sanitiser tender worth R4-million and a batch of face masks that vanished

Inside the illicit trade in West Africa’s oldest artworks

Nok terracottas are proof that an ancient civilisation once existed in Nigeria. Now they are at the centre of a multimillion-dollar, globe-spanning underground industry — and once again, Nigeria is losing out

Emery Mwazulu Diyabanza: Liberating Africa from land of liberté

The cultural and political activist is on a quest to bring looted treasures back home
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday