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16 May 2023
UWC alum’s locally-produced COVID-19 antigen home test hits the shelves
The World Health Organisation recently announced the end of the global emergency status for COVID-19, but the virus has not disappeared. While the number of severe cases is not nearly as high as it was during the pandemic, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases will continue to monitor the situation. Those with comorbidities - such as severe asthma or morbid obesity - still need to consider taking vaccine boosters and getting tested for the virus when they exhibit symptoms. 

A University of the Western Cape (UWC) alumnus and owner of the first locally manufactured COVID-19 antigen test in Africa is seeing his product hit the shelves locally and at pharmacies and supermarkets in the rest of Africa.
Ashley Uys, UWC alumnus and
Medical Diagnostech owner


Ashley Uys, owner of Medical Diagnostech, and his team are confident that the home test kit, HealthPulse TestNow, will be most effective.

The home test kit is expected to meet the public’s needs at the start of winter and in the heart of the flu season.

Uys and his team - predominantly UWC alumni - ensured that the country is far better prepared with a test that can differentiate between the common flu and COVID-19.

The kit works with an app to divulge whether you have COVID-19 and sells for 35% less than imported kits currently available on the market. 

It provides instant results within 15 seconds. It is a feat achieved with the help of a global digital health non-profit, Audere, which shares the vision of developing solutions to advance health equity in underserved communities worldwide.

“We are most proud of being the first African manufacturer of COVID-19 tests to be approved by SAHPRA,” said Uys.

“With the products we create, we want to not only distribute to supermarkets and pharmacies but to sell directly to the public in schools, at churches and community organisations.

“I want to go this route to keep the price as affordable as possible.”

 The CEO believes low-income countries require products of quality at affordable prices. Uys said having their products on shelves gives them confidence in developing more products and new technologies.

The test kit comes with easy-to-follow instructions and guided result interpretation. It integrates with public health reporting systems and ensures that self-testing data is reported, providing a more comprehensive understanding of disease prevalence.

“I believe self-testing is an important component of public health strategies worldwide and the kit is designed to improve an individual’s self-testing aptitude while seamlessly connecting ministries of health with test data to maximise the end-to-end impact of public health programmes,” he said.

Uys, who grew up in Belhar, graduated with a BSc in Biotechnology with Honours from UWC in 2003. His company has manufactured kits for drug testing, pregnancy, HIV and syphilis, among others.

READ MORE ABOUT STUDYING BIOTECHNOLOGY AT UWC

Reflecting on a tumultuous pandemic, Uys said while the country was under strict lockdown, he and his team - wearing hazmat suits - had permission to collect blood samples from residences as part of the first steps to developing the antigen test. 

“It was hard work. This was the basis for our clinical trials and SAHPRA approval. What motivated me was seeing the loss of life around me and loved ones suffering. It drove me to wear my hazmat suit to go into homes to assist in collecting blood and swab samples. These were extremely scarce at the time due to the strict lockdowns when COVID-19 hit, but we needed to initiate the development of diagnostic test kits,” said Uys. 

“The kit eliminates the queues of people who were seen waiting to be tested and then facing the all-too-familiar stressful additional wait for the outcome.”

Uys explained that his fiancee, Cannon Josephs, has been his pillar of support.

He lives by the motto “Africa for Africa” and said he would be focusing on medicinal cannabis next. 

“I want to see the African continent thrive and to continue to find ways to help solve Africa’s challenges. The long-term plan is to see representation on all major continents, and in Africa; to see our main branches in the main African countries where we can supply all neighbouring countries and see our manufacturing facilities represented within major African countries.” 

For Uys, the lessons learned are that collaboration to innovate is extremely important and that It helps to speed up the time-to-market for commercialising products. 

“I’ve realised that, as with this product, regulatory affairs are most important in the commercialisation process and the focus should be to prioritise this before one starts developing a new product,” said the father of one. 

“I’ve also learned that the Regulator, SAHPRA, has lengthy processes, and employing a good regulatory affairs manager is critical.” 

Read about the aptamer HIV test that Uys developed in collaboration with UWC’s Technology Transfer Office here: https://etd.uwc.ac.za/handle/11394/8712?show=full.
 
Staff members at Medical Diagnostech who are alumni from UWC include Dr Lyndon Mungur, Zahira Kootbodien, Ashley Uys,
Dr Charlene Kimar and Averouz Maritz