The Sunday News
“INSTITUTIONS of higher learning have a leading role in shaping the economy through science and technology by being the test beds for innovation and educating future generations. They should recognise the agricultural sector and agro-based value chain industries as an integral part of our economy.
The pursuit of economic growth reminds us to think creatively and positively about the manufacturing sector, value addition and beneficiation, import substitution and export promotion.”
This was said by President Mnangagwa when he met vice-chancellors of universities in Harare in 2018 as he expressed the desire to see institutions of higher learning providing solutions to the problems that people face every day. The focus by the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development over the years has been to bridge the gap between the classroom and industry.
The journey to turn universities into problem solving entities saw Government funding the construction of a number innovation hubs at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ), National University of Science and Technology (Nust), Midlands State University (MSU), Zimbabwe National Defence University, Great Zimbabwe University and Chinhoyi University of Technology, among others.
The innovation hubs have been an answer to the President’s desire to see universities offering productive and responsive higher education which is relevant to the needs of the economy. This can be done by harnessing knowledge and skills that promote economic development through science, technology and research.
Reports last week that Nust is working on producing Covid-19 testing equipment meets the desire that the President has expressed time and again. Once such equipment is manufactured locally, it means less costs for the testing process. Zimbabwe is importing the conclusive diagnostic test kit that determines if one is infected by analysing a sample for genetic material from the virus.
A Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test costs about US$60 in private health institutions, a development which made the test a luxury for a few.
Once Nust starts producing the kit, members of the public will pay about US$20 for a PCR test, while Government will reduce its import bill.
The innovation at the Bulawayo institution of higher learning will also help the country detect the different strains of Covid-19. Besides Covid-19, the local production of PCR test kits will help Zimbabwe handle some diseases like HIV whose prevalence in the country is one of the highest in the world at 12,3 percent. A PCR test can also be used to detect viral load and can be used in animals to ascertain various diseases and viruses.
The director of the Applied Genetic Testing Centre at Nust, Mr Zephaniah Dlamini, told our sister paper Chronicle that through assistance from the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Nust will be acquiring a DNA synthesizer machine which will be used to produce the kits. Nust will produce about 50 000 PCR kits weekly and currently the country conducts about 15 000 Covid-19 tests weekly.
“The applied DNA testing lab was asked by Government to assist in the testing of Covid-19 up to about November last year and we were doing the first wave of the virus. During that time we were testing people from the southern region which includes Bulawayo, Masvingo, Midlands, Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South provinces,” said Mr Dlamini.
He said during that time about 40 000 Covid-19 samples were processed at the university’s lab situated at Mpilo Central Hospital. Mr Dlamini said the machine will synthesize molecules not just for Covid-19 testing but even for other diseases.