London – As the novel coronavirus continues to rage across the world, a spotlight is being shed on an institute established in the western African country of Ghana about 40 years ago in honor of prominent Japanese bacteriologist Hideyo Noguchi (1876-1928).
The Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research, in the Ghanaian capital of Accra, operates around the clock, covering over 80 percent of polymerase chain reaction tests for the virus conducted in Ghana, one of the African countries hit hardest by the pandemic.
The institute, located within the premises of the University of Ghana, conducts PCR tests also for suspected coronavirus carriers in neighboring countries with poor medical systems. It now serves as a crucial hub in the fight against infectious diseases in West Africa.
Noguchi, a native of Fukushima Prefecture, died of yellow fever while he was conducting research on the viral disease in Accra. The memorial institute was established in 1979 with grant aid from Japan. It also played a key role during the Ebola pandemic that hit Africa in 2014, carrying out many virus tests for neighboring countries.
After confirming its first novel coronavirus case in mid-March, Ghana conducted a lockdown for some three weeks from late March.
In Ghana, the cumulative number of coronavirus cases has reached some 25,000, with the total death toll standing at about 140.
There are growing concerns over a further deterioration in the situation, with the virus spreading from urban to rural areas.
Staffed at 120, the medical research institute had conducted over 250,000 PCR tests by early this month, using four testing devices.
The institute also accepted 800 samples for virus checks from the island nation of Sao Tome and Principe in the Gulf of Guinea at the request of the World Health Organization.
Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo has paid a visit to the institute.
Still, the institute is facing challenges, such as a need to speed up testing, as it has been flooded with body samples being sent from across Ghana. The lack of reagents and other necessary items is also a headache.
The institute is boosting efforts to address the issues, such as procuring equipment to partially automate the testing procedures with the help from the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
The political situation in Ghana is relatively stable compared with other African nations, but its medical system is inadequate.
“Without the institute, Ghana wouldn’t have been able to conduct coronavirus testing this actively,” said Maki Ozawa, deputy director of the Ghana office of JICA, a Japanese government-affiliated aid organization.
The presence of the institute named is likely to grow further as it is expected to play a key role in pharmaceutical approval procedures in Ghana for a vaccine for the novel coronavirus once it is developed.
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