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Last updated on Jun 23rd, 2021 at 12:49 pm

The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) has recently established a wastewater-based early warning system for COVID-19 in various parts of the country. The SARS-CoV-2 Wastewater Surveillance Dashboard was launched on Tuesday, 17 November.

Tracking of wastewater plays a key role in the development of early warning systems (EWS) for various enteric viruses. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, SARS-CoV-2 RNA has been successfully isolated and quantified in the wastewater of a growing number of countries.

The new system, although currently focused on COVID-19, has broader application to develop an early warning system for diseases such Hepatitis A, measles and Norovirus.

SAMRC President and CEO, Professor Glenda Gray said by monitoring wastewater they are able to predict a rise in COVID-19 cases within a week or more before it is usually detectable through human testing.

“We are very excited about the prospect of curbing COVID-19 transmission and saving lives using this technology, especially when undertaken in partnership with public health officials”, Gray said.

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“At this stage we are rolling out monitoring sites in Cape Town, the Breede River Valley in the Western Cape, the Mopani and Vhembe Districts in Limpopo and the OR Tambo and Amathole Districts in the Eastern Cape”, said Professor Renee Street from the SAMRC’s Environment & Health Research Unit.

Breede Valley Municipality: Time series graphs for temportal trends of RNA signal levels (individual)


She also added that the project would soon be extended to include Gauteng.

Public dashboard launched

A public dashboard is available on the SAMRC’s  website so that the public will be able to freely check on findings at some of the study sites – the dashboard will be updated on a weekly basis.

“In so doing we hope that relevant public health authorities will be able to use the results to mount timeous interventions to reduce community spread of COVID-19, such as alerts to health professionals, scaled up public awareness programmes on the importance of wearing face masks, physical distancing and hand hygiene, as well as increased testing and tracing,” said Professor Renee Street from the SAMRC’s Environment & Health Research Unit.

City of Cape Town: Spatial map of aggregate RNA signal level per wastewater treatment catchment

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