The disruptive Covid-19 pandemic has not sidetracked the North-West University’s (NWU’s) researchers and academics from using their expertise to the benefit of society.
NWU staff and students have been involved in various pandemic-related projects. These range from involvement in communities to finding workable solutions in the fight against the Coronavirus and the disease it causes, Covid-19.
These are a few of the many NWU research projects that have made inroads in combatting the disease.
Engineers rising to the Covid-19 challenge
The medical device development team in the Faculty of Engineering collaborates with other experts to support the South African government.
The team has joined forces with the Central University of Technology and the Vaal University of Technology. They also interface with the Covid Agile Manufacturing Solution Response Team who meet online every day to develop urgent products such as personal protective equipment (PPE). Prof Leenta Grobler is part of the steering committee of the solution response team.
The medical device development team, led by CP Kloppers, is manufacturing and distributing face shields free of charge to health workers in the area around Potchefstroom.
Engineers create solution for school-based Covid-19 screening congestion
Engineers at the Faculty of Engineering have developed a screening and data-recording kit that will prevent congestion at school gates where learners are screened before entering the premises.
According to Prof Leenta Grobler, project leader and specialist in health-related engineering innovations, their solution involves the digitalisation of the screening and data-capturing process.
Every person is issued with an identification token, and all entry points are equipped with a recording station. This station houses, among others, a database, a token reader, a digital thermometer and a simple user interface that employs an Android-operated cell phone. The kit means significant time savings for the education and work sectors.
NWU hopes to stem Corona’s surge
The African Centre for Disaster Studies within the Unit for Environmental Sciences and Management at the School for Geo- and Spatial Sciences has been running a multi-disciplinary think tank on the Covid-19 pandemic since 3 March 2020.
The centre advised the National Department of Health on the declaration of a national state of disaster, the creation of the Covid-19 WhatsApp service, and the drafting of the lockdown and quarantine site protocols.
NWU to validate new Covid-19 test
The NWU’s experts have been roped in to assist with the validation of a new test in the fight against the Coronavirus.
Developed by Austell Pharmaceuticals (Pty) Ltd, it is anticipated that this SARS Cov-2 diagnostic test will deliver results faster than current molecular-based tests (within 1,5 hours) and will also be more cost-effective than the tests currently used.
Prof Anne Grobler is head of research at Austell Laboratories and also responsible for selected special projects in the Faculty of Health Sciences.
NWU assists provincial Health in curbing Covid-19
The NWU assists the North West Department of Health (NWDoH) to predict the course of the virus in the province in order for the provincial government to spread resources optimally.
It is creating and maintaining a centralised database to identify areas where symptoms are evident and also coordinating crowd-sourcing solutions. Prof Petra Bester, director of the Africa Unit for Transdisciplinary Health Research (AUTHeR), is coordinator of this effort and leads a multidisciplinary team of experts.
They also launched the Cobuntu initiative which gives the public greater access to personal protective equipment.
How to resolve food shortages during lockdown
A spin-off company of the Faculty of Engineering, CFAM Technologies, specialises in a process in which raw materials like maize meal are cooked at high pressure and heat in an extruder to produce a cooked, dry product within a few seconds.
Adding water or milk to this dry product turns it into a balanced meal.
CFAM also recently developed a food auto bank where residents in the Potchefstroom area have access to a bag of this dry porridge. This invention has been embraced by several organisations that have been helping to supply needy people with food.
NWU’s hands-on Chemistry experts produce sanitisers
Four academics and two laboratory technicians in the subject group Chemistry at the Mahikeng Campus are producing sanitisers that can neutralise the virus and help prevent the spread of infection.
Dr Zimbili Mkhize, Prof Lebo Katata-Seru, Dr Mduduzi Cele and Sphelele Sosibo, along with laboratory technicians Murendeni Ravele and Michael Nengwekhulu, are at the forefront of this initiative.
Yabelana connects communities to essential services
Yabelana, a ground breaking eDirectory system, helped communities throughout the country identify which services were or were not available during the lockdown.
Yabelana is the first tailor-made information-sharing system of its kind in the country. Service providers add information on the Yabelana app, enabling users to identify services and events in their specific areas.
It is a product of the we-DELIVER project, led by Prof Vera Roos and hosted by the Optentia research focus area on the Vanderbijlpark Campus.