There is no doubt that the COVID19 pandemic has taken up a chunk for the year 2020 and if what has been projected is anything to go by, the worst might not be over - not just yet. As the world is gearing up for the second wave of the pandemic, adequate and timely testing would be necessary in order to curtail the spread. In this article, I decided to look at some issues associated with testing for the virus and the technological solutions that have been offered or might be on the way.
The issues with COVID19 testing
I have been opportune to interact with some folks that have undergone COVID19 testing and all of them agreed to one thing, that the procedure is kinda painful and intrusive. A typical testing procedure requires the insertion of a 6-inch long swabbing stick into the cavity that lies between the nose and the mouth. The pain is not only during the insertion because the swabbing stick also has to be rotated several times for 15 seconds to ensure that adequate material is collected for testing. In several instances, the swabbing of the two sides of the nose is recommended so as not to take chances of inadequate materials upon getting to the lab.
Apart from the pain associated with swabbing, the time it requires for test results to come out is another pain in the ass for people. A suspected individual is expected to stay quarantined until their COVID19 status is established. This waiting period can be as long as a week in some countries. Imagine having to stay away from your loved ones for a whole week only for the result to come out and reveal that you tested negative.
Also posing as a challenge is the cost of testing for COVID19, especially in the undeveloped and developing regions of the world where a-dollar a day per individual is a luxury. I have a friend that is presently stuck in South Africa not because he could not afford the cost of the flight ticket, but because he is busy trying to source the funds for the COVID test when he gets to the airport here in Nigeria.
One good thing about technology is that it keeps advancing every minute. The first impression I had when the procedure of taking samples was explained to me was that it is still primitive perhaps because the virus is new to the scientific world. With time, one would expect that a better and less intrusive sampling procedure would be developed. And that is exactly what has been playing out recently.
One of the advancements as regards testing for COVID19 was reported a few days ago by Sanofi, a big pharma company based in France. It involves collaborating with a developer of a smartphone-based pathogen diagnostic application - Luminostics. The collaboration would see the birth of s smartphone application that is capable of using artificial intelligence in diagnosing COVID19. However, the procedure still requires swabbing, the only difference being that users do not need to visit clinics in order to have their samples analyzed. The swab is inserted into a device attached to a smartphone which then uses nanoparticles and chemicals to analyze the materials on the swab and an artificial intelligence puts the data generated together to compile a report.
In another development, the distinctiveness of the sound produced by coughs associated with COVID19 is being looked at and might end up being utilized as a diagnostic feature for the virus with the help of an artificial intelligence-based smartphone application. The application only needs to record the sound of the cough produced by suspected individuals the analysis of which would give an indication of the status of the individual. According to the developer:
Test subjects will be able to simply download a mobile application, enter their symptoms, record an audio clip of their cough, and upload the data anonymously to our servers. We will then use audio signal processing and machine learning techniques to evaluate if there is some room for automatic or assisted COVID-19 screening. source
If this application can make the light of the day, it will be a major breakthrough as far as testing for COVID19 is concerned. Most people have not opted to be tested for the virus because of the rigors and risks associated with going to the clinic as well as the pain of swabbing for sample collection. The coughvid application eliminates all these concerns.
On the issue of waiting time for results and the cost of testing, a frontier solution can be found in the test kit reported to have been developed by Nigerian scientists. The new diagnostic test kit was reported to be faster than other polymerase chain reaction methods for testing for the virus and quite cheaper as well. While this solution might only be applicable to Nigeria and perhaps other neighbouring African countries, I am sure that other countries of the world are busy exploring cheaper and faster alternatives to the present methods of testing.
Hopefully, the coming year 2021 would bring a better world for us all.
Thank you all for reading.