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NWU assists provincial health in curbing COVID-19

The North-West University (NWU) and the North West Department of Health (NWDoH) are joining hands in the fight against the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, known as COVID-19.

The department's deputy director-general, Polaki Mokatsane, approached the NWU to assist with strategic information, guidance and support. The collaboration will take place on two levels.

Firstly, the NWU will help to predict the course of the virus in the province in order for the provincial government to spread resources optimally.

Secondly, it will create a centralised database to identify areas where symptoms are evident for testing and screening purposes, and also co-ordinate crowd-sourcing solutions. The aim is to mobilise public support with personal protective equipment (PPE) such as protective eye gear, gloves and masks.

"It is a great compliment that provincial government is drawing on our expertise in curbing the spread of COVID-19," says Prof Petra Bester, director of the Africa Unit for Transdisciplinary Health Research (AUTHeR) on the NWU's campus in Potchefstroom and co-ordinator of this collaborative effort.

"Most other universities have medical schools, but even without a medical school yet, we have enough knowledge to play a significant role in limiting and containing the disease," she adds.

The NWU's multidisciplinary team of experts includes a specialist public health physician (Prof Andrew Robinson), cardiovascular physiologist (Prof Lanth'e Kruger), digital health expert (Dr Herman Myburgh), biomedical statistician (Dr Cristian Ricci), geneticist and ethicist (Prof Wayne Towers), molecular virologist (Prof Albie van Dijk), physicist and computational modeller (Bertie Seyffert), environmental virologist (Dr Hazel Mufhandu), information management specialist (Tertius Bester) and business administrator (Dr Christi Niesing).

While working on different tasks, they will collaborate with the NWDoH, two epidemiologists from the National Institute of Communicable Diseases and representatives from MezzanineWare, Britehouse (a division of Dimension Data) and Microsoft South Africa.

"The services will be mobilised according to the national Department of Health's proposed model for COVID-19 surveillance and screening in provinces as announced by Dr Yogan Pillay from the national Department of Health," says Prof Bester.

"We have seen in other countries that accurate predictions have helped governments to be ready when the virus hits in certain areas. Strategic information helped to ensure that essential resources and measures were put in place."

Prof Bester says the NWU has an important role to play. "Our experts are geared for it. We are excited about the various collaborations and believe it will give us the opportunity to use our expertise to make a significant impact in the province. We have seen that the NWDoH will do everything possible to fight this pandemic."