African scientists about to start testing TB

African scientists about to start testing TB

African innovation is on the rise with more and more minds developing advancements necessary to the unique challenges Africans face. In the medical field, two new developments have emerged against tuberculosis (TB).  An airborne disease that affects the lungs, TB is deadly, particularly in developing countries. The disease has recently seen an upsurge in countries such as the United States, however incidence rates for TB remain highest in Africa.


South Africa currently has the highest TB rates in the world, with an incidence rate of 834 infections for every 100,000 people. For other African countries, the rate falls between 300 and 600 infections for every 100,000 people. This is still much higher that incidence rates in China or in Europe, which number in the tens. There are a number of challenges facing TB and healthcare in African countries. For one, tests to detect the disease can be expensive, labor intensive, and unavailable in rural areas. Latent TB can survive in the human body for years without manifesting, pushing the need for medical innovations that can detect TB earlier. Then, there are strains of TB that are resistant to drugs.


A group of scientists from South Africa, Cameroon, and Ethiopia have gathered at Stellenbosch University to patent a biosignature that detects TB faster. This new method uses blood gained from a pin prick to measure blood chemicals, which then determine disease state and can make a diagnosis in about an hour. This allows people to be diagnosed and start treatment in a single visit as opposed to the culture test, which takes ten days to reveal a positive result for TB and 42 days for a negative result.


The innovative test employs a hand-held, battery-operated instrument that can be used by healthcare workers even with little training. Although it is still in development, it does have the potential to speed up TB diagnosis especially in rural areas. The test will run clinical trails in Namibia, the Gambia, Uganda, Ethiopia, and South Africa over the next three years before hitting the mainstream. It will be far cheaper than other TB tests; the culture test costs $45 per test, while the widely used sputum test is $12. This blood test will be $2.50.


Another team of scientists have developed a labeling process that allows latent TB to be discerned and isolated. Samantha Sampson and Jomien Mouton have learned that the bacteria which causes latent TB can hide inside white blood cells. With the fluorescence dilution process, the scientists are not only able to label the bacteria but pluck it out physically.


Should we expect to see more exciting scientific innovations from African scientists in the near future? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below or reaching me on Twitter @rafeeeeta

Rafeeat Aliyu

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