Rwanda pilots sniffer dogs in Covid-19 screening

Leave a comment / By: manifel / 05 June, 2021 15:04:24PM
Rwanda pilots sniffer dogs in Covid-19 screening

Rwanda has launched a three-month trial of using sniffer dogs in the testing for coronavirus in a bid that is likely to strengthen the country’s efforts to control the virus spread.

Five trained sniffer dogs are currently being used to detect the virus from samples taken from passengers at the Kigali International Airport. 

The trial is supported by Germany, which has supplied the Detection Dog Training System (DDTS), and trained the dog handlers from the Canine Brigade of the Rwanda National Police. 

Renate Charlotte Lehner, 1st Secretary of the Embassy of Germany in Rwanda said that they spent €30,000 (Rwf36 million) on the DDTS and training of the dog handlers alone, underscoring the commitment between Rwanda and Germany to partner in research to tackle pandemics and make the country safer. 

The dogs can detect Covid-19 within an accuracy close to that of the PCR test in about one minute.

This initiative aims to reduce the time and cost of testing Covid-19 at the airport, and ultimately at mass gatherings.

Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) is a common laboratory technique used to test the virus. Currently, PCR results are available within eight hours.

Passengers arriving at the airport will not be in contact with the sniffer dogs, rather will be asked for consent to participate in this pilot and receive sample cotton patches. The collected samples will then be taken to the sniffing cabin set up in a separate area,” Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), said in a statement.

Imported from Netherlands, the dogs are trained to recognise a distinctive odour produced by people with the virus

The Director-General of RBC, Dr. Sabin Nsanzimana said that discussion about the pilot project started last year.

If the pilot phase is successful Rwanda will deploy Covid-19 canine testing at the airport.  

The number of sniffer dogs to carry out the exercise will be increased, Nsanzimana said.

Preliminary results promising

Nsanzimana said that preliminary data suggest that the dogs are good at detecting the coronavirus with an efficacy rate of 94 per cent.

He said that the dogs have the capacity to make Covid-19 testing fast and reduce the cost of testing.

“From research, then it is going to be deployment not only at the airport because we are thinking about the stadiums, events and any mass gathering where we need to be sure that there is no virus moving around. But that is in the near future,” he said.

Leon Mutesa, Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Rwanda said that the project was first tried in Germany.

“Data shows that there is an impact for countries like the Emirates that picked the idea and started exploring it,” he said. 

The pilot targets 7,000 samples.

Mutesa said that it can take a dog around three minutes to detect between 20 and 50 samples.

Rwanda is the first country in Africa to pilot canine screening.

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