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Science and Innovation redirects funds to COVID–19 research

An amount of R4 million has been redirected from some projects in the Department of Science and Innovation to fund COVID–19 related proposed interventions.

At a multi-ministerial briefing on Monday in Tshwane, the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Science and Innovation Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, announced some steps his ministry would take as part of collective efforts to combat the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Through the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), Nzimande’s ministry is engaging with the Department of Health, the Medical Research Council and the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority to mobilise funding, reprioritise research strategies, and create an enabling ethical and regulatory framework to facilitate research on COVID-19.

Nzimande said DSI has now redirected R4 million from other projects to some of the COVID–19 related proposed interventions and will be costing the rest and mobilising additional funds going forward.

“Given the recent emergence of COVID-19 at a global level and the lack of adequate information on the epidemiology, therapeutic management or natural history of COVID-19 or vaccine availability, it is important for researchers in South Africa to coordinate a response to the outbreak to facilitate its control. 

“In our continent, Africa, the natural history of COVID-19 has not been established and the risk factors for transmission and clinical outcome is unknown. Therefore, there is an urgent need to describe the epidemiology of COVID-19 in our country, as well as to address diagnostic, therapeutic, host and viral factors that may facilitate transmission or protect against infection,” Nzimande said. 

Currently, the Minister said, it appears that there is low mortality in children under nine years of age and mortality is the highest among men, increasing with age, smokers and persons with underlying lung and immune disorders.

Nzimande said it is important that local research focuses on surveillance, therapeutics and understanding the local epidemiology and natural history.

National framework for COVID-19 research 

In this regard, the Minister said a sub-committee has been established to coordinate a national framework for research on COVID-19. He said the department is looking at availing some funds towards this research.

The following research agenda has been proposed:

  • Clinical/therapeutic research: This includes a focus on the World Health Organisation’s common protocol and other clinical protocols/research ideas. Strategies for the management of mild, moderate and severe COVID-19 infections will be considered and prioritised for further development, costing and implementation, and
  • Regulatory and ethics: This includes the review and approval of ethical and regulatory challenges pertaining to clinical research.

“We are also going to prioritise surveillance strategies, with the view of funding the top priorities,” Nzimande said.

Doing things differently

With regards to international engagement, Nzimande said the department has put contingency measures in place, including the use of video conferencing to appropriately service its international cooperation portfolio in the coming weeks, without the need for any outgoing international travel or receiving incoming delegations. 

“We maintain close contact with our international partners in this regard. All major international meetings we were due to host in the coming weeks have been postponed, and we will be able to satisfactorily mitigate against the impact of these postponements.

“We are alert to opportunities for international research and innovation partnerships to support the fight against COVID-19 and will facilitate South Africa’s participation in such cooperation using our extensive portfolio of international cooperation instruments. 

“South African researchers are, for example, already involved in relevant projects funded by the European Union,” the Minister said. – SAnews.gov.za