Covid-19 wastewater virus-risk forensic service team announced

10th July 2020 By: Schalk Burger - Creamer Media Senior Contributing Editor

A team comprising academics from the University of the Free State (UFS) and private sector laboratory specialists can provide a virus-risk forensic service using sewage samples to monitor Covid-19 hotspots, UFS said in a July 9 statement.

Netherlands research agency KWR first demonstrated the potential of wastewater surveillance to identify the total viral load in a defined population in the Netherlands, and a successful proof of concept by a local laboratory was announced on June 10.

"After submitting a formal report to government, the Business Water Chamber, and the Public Private Growth Initiative (PPGI), we can now announce a team to offer this virus-risk forensic service, UFS Centre for Environmental Management Professor Anthony Turton said.

A Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) proof of concept identified one specific wastewater treatment works as a definite hotspot, but another had no viral signal at all. This means that those people living in the area with no viral signal are safe and do not need to be individually tested, but those in the hotspot could be isolated and targeted for individual testing, UFS stated.

"More importantly, we can now say that the hotspot area is likely to result in demand for medical services in a specific area, so planning can be done before the wave hits the hospital," Turton said.

The team of service providers include Turton, who is responsible for the conceptual design; Amanzi-4-All CEO Dr Mpafane Deyi, who is responsible for implementation of the service to private and public sector partners; and Amanzi-4-All director Dr Leon Geustyn, who is responsible for the mathematical and technical aspects of the risk-based diagnostic service.

Further, GreenHill Laboratories director Dr Shaun Groenink is responsible for laboratory support along with GreenHill Laboratories senior scientist Dr Cara-Lesley Bartlett. Praecautio director Neil Madgwick is responsible for the coordination of laboratories as the service grows across the African continent, and Instru-Serve director Kevin Lindsay is responsible for the refinement of bulk sampling techniques and the supply chain from point of collection to the laboratories.

With 824 wastewater treatment works across the country, the DWS can rapidly deploy this technology to any existing area of concern, says Turton.