The South African Doping Control Laboratory (SADoCoL) has heeded the call that all hands must be on deck to stem the tide of the new variant of Covid-19 infections crippling health systems and economies cross the globe.
SADoCoL is an ISO17025 and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)-accredited service laboratory that performs blood analysis for the Athlete Biological Passport. The laboratory is based on the Bloemfontein Campus of the University of the Free State.
South Africa is currently experiencing worrying and rapid daily increases of cases attributable to the new variant of the virus which has pushed death rates to around 800. This puts South Africa in the same category as most European countries, notably the UK, France, Italy and Spain, to mention three, where surges have forced the re-imposition of strict lockdown measures.
Locally, this has also sparked widespread fears that President Cyril Ramaphosa will be compelled to move the country back to the more severe lockdown alert levels.
Hanno du Preez, SADoCoL’s director, said the facility is well-positioned and has the necessary equipment to conduct serology testing on serum and full blood samples for immunity against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Du Preez said SADoCoL lost all its samples originating from organised sports following the introduction of the lockdown regulations after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. But he said they had to move quickly and reorganise workspace and refurbish a small laboratory area so that they can conduct some coronavirus related testing.
Said du Preez: “SADoCoL moved quickly to re-organise workspace and refurbish a small laboratory area, ensuring proper workflow for the handling of virus-borne samples. With quick response from Mr Benedict Mochesela of UFS Facilities Management and the contractor, the space was re-organised and the necessary safety areas created within four days.”
He said the new ‘COVID-19 lab’ necessitated some structural changes. These included the installation of partition walls between sample preparation, clothing areas, and instrument areas, the installation of alternative lighting, as well as high throughput extractor fans and UV lights to disinfect the lab space.
Du Preez added that this also involved upgrading the sample administration area in order to comply with the requirements of the regulations for handling samples that may potentially contain this virus.
The laboratory is now fully equipped to carry out antibody tests for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, he said, and is eagerly awaiting approval from the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA).
Du Preez said: “This test can detect the presence of antibodies (IgM and IgG) in human blood after exposure to the virus. The implementation of this method will enable SADoCoL to support the UFS in determining infection data, as well as the sporting community to determine the spread of infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus among elite athletes. SADoCoL is also excited to add to the research on this virus.”