Kigali, October 21 2020 – Nature Magazine has published an article titled “A pooled testing strategy for identifying SARS-CoV-2 at low prevalence”, following a study carried out in Rwanda. Conducted by researchers from the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), the Rwanda joint COVID-19 taskforce and the University of Rwanda, the study lays out an efficient and cost-effective method to optimise testing.
This approach to pooled testing is the result of a mathematical investigation led by Prof Wilfred Ndifon, a mathematical epidemiologist and Chief Scientific Officer at AIMS: “To approach the level of testing necessary to control COVID-19, you need to sample people intelligently and test; regularly, quickly. We have developed a method that can improve the capacity of countries to test massively and regularly at lower cost”, he said.
“We used to have an average of 1500 samples a day, providing feedback within 48 hours. Now with pool testing, within a day, we give the feedback to the patients”, said Prof Leon Mutesa, member of the Rwanda joint COVID-19 taskforce, lead experimentalist of the study, and Director of the Center for Human Genetics, University of Rwanda.
“Research is one of the most critical pillars of the AIMS ecosystem of transformation, and this study is yet another demonstration of the application of mathematics to real-world problems” said Lydie Hakizimana, AIMS Interim CEO. “We are delighted that the findings of this article, co-senior authored by our Chief Scientific Officer, Wilfred Ndifon and Founder and Board Chair, Neil Turok, will be instrumental in detecting and curtailing the spread of COVID-19 in Rwanda and beyond”.
The study introduces a new mathematical algorithm to optimise the pooling of samples, with the group of people to be tested represented by a set of points arranged in a hypercube, with three points on each side. The idea is to test every slice of the hypercube, and if there is a single infected individual in the group, then the positive slices indicate the position of that person in the hypercube. With field trials of the approach underway in Rwanda and South Africa, the use of group testing on a massive scale to closely and continually monitor infection in a population provides a promising pathway for the long-term control of COVID-19. Read the publication here. Watch the scientists explain the method here.
Founded in 2003, the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) is a pan-African network of centres of excellence for post-graduate training in mathematical sciences, research and public engagement in STEM. With centres in South Africa, Senegal, Ghana, Cameroon and Rwanda, AIMS is leading Africa’s socio-economic transformation through innovative scientific training, cutting-edge research, and public engagement. With expertly tailored academic and non-academic programs spanning through Centres of Excellence, Research Centres, the AIMS Industry Initiative and gender-responsive Teacher Training, AIMS equally created two critical initiatives: Quantum Leap Africa, which aspires to do leading-edge research in quantum science, and the Next Einstein Forum, which is positioning Africa to become an important player in global science. For more information, visit www.nexteinstein.org.
The University of Rwanda (UR), former National University of Rwanda (NUR), founded in 1963 is a nonprofit public higher education institution located in Kigali. Officially recognised by the Ministry of Education of Rwanda, University of Rwanda (UR) is a vast coeducational institution with 30,000-34,999 students. University of Rwanda (UR) offers courses and programs leading to officially recognised Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in several fields of study. This 57-year-old institution has a selective admission policy (with an admission rate of 60-70%) based on students’ past academic records and grades. Open to international students, UR also provides several academic and non-academic facilities and services including a library, housing, sports facilities, financial aid, scholarships, study abroad and exchange programs, as well as distance learning opportunities. For more information, visit www.ur.ac.rw.
Dr Layih Butake, Senior Outreach Manager & Acting Director of Communications, AIMS