Makerere University college of Health Sciences is developing a paper-strip test for the deadly Ebola and Marburg viruses, officials have said.
The college secured $100,000 (Shs 260m) from Grand Challenges Canada, a not-for-profit initiative funded by Canadian government that aims to reduce the disease burden in sub-Saharan Africa.
The head of the project, Dr Misaki Wayengera, said the paper-strip test, when fully developed, would enable people to quickly identify the infection in communities, especially those where quarantine criteria are poor.
This early detection would also enable quicker isolation of infected persons in order to contain outbreaks. Dr Wayengera says the strip will have a unique reaction to either the Ebola (EBOV) or Marburg (MBGV) pathogens.
"We are using different tools to identify the unique areas which produce an immune response so that when someone is infected, he or she produces antibodies against the area," he explains, adding that scientists are currently testing molecules serum samples from the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) in the laboratory.
The samples are for survivors of Ebola and Marburg in the previous outbreaks. Once the desired results are attained, their molecules will be examined on a strip. A confirmatory test of infection is expected to show a change of colour when samples of saliva, urine, faeces and blood are tested.
"The most critical thing at this stage is to test the molecules from the lab and if successful, we will then engage large-scale manufacturing to put the molecules on the paper-strip," Dr Wayengera added.
With funding from government coming through, he anticipates the strip will be out by the end of 2014.
Although the World Health Organisation and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have identified Ebola and Marburg as potential pathogens for bio-terror, meagre government funding into research and development of possible solutions remains the biggest challenge.
"When they break out in rural areas and samples have to be moved, there is risk of infecting other people in the process of transfer and yet if this simple test was developed, it would have helped in early detection," Wayengera said.
However, since 2000, Uganda has been slowly building capacity at the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) and CDC labs, to do diagnosis.
Meanwhile, Makerere University, in collaboration with Astel Diagnostics Ltd and six other implementing agencies, has developed a new test that can detect parasites in tsetse flies that cause sleeping sickness.
"The new lateral flow test helps to identify areas of potential sleeping sickness outbreaks that can be prioritised for tsetse control to pre-empt an outbreak," said Prof John Kiboko Enyaru, the coordinator of the project.
The test is, however, not yet commercially available.