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Japan-backed research institute at center of Ghana's efforts against coronavirus

A member of staff at the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research in Accra, Ghana, is seen preparing a polymerase chain reaction test on June 18, 2020, in this image provided by the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

The Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research, established with the support of the Japanese government in Ghana in 1979, has become the West African country's hub in its efforts against the new coronavirus.

While health care systems in many African countries remain poor, the institute, known locally as "Noguchi," has managed to administer over 200,000 polymerase reaction (PCR) tests by utilizing its human resources and equipment. The center is responsible for some 80% of tests in the country, and Noguchi's progress has begun gaining attention from the country's people.

On May 10, Noguchi received Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, who toured the research center's cutting-edge facility and its provisions against the new coronavirus. There, researchers explained the process for administering PCR tests, including how they handle the virus in biological safety cabinets. Among the technology at their disposal is negative-pressure equipment that stops the inside air from escaping out, and other up-to-date items found only in the center within Ghana.

At present, the institute is running at full capacity in its attempts to stop the new coronavirus, with its total staff of 120 alternating between day and night shifts to conduct tests. It has also received 800 samples from the island nation of Sao Tome and Principe, situated in the Gulf of Guinea, which Ghana's coast faces.

Fukushima Prefecture-born bacteriologist Hideyo Noguchi researched yellow fever in Ghana, and died in the country in 1928. In the 1960s, the University of Ghana's school of medicine asked the Japanese government if it could provide aid, as the department was struggling with teacher and equipment shortages. Due to Noguchi's connection, teaching staff primarily from Fukushima Medical University were dispatched to Ghana, thus beginning exchanges of knowledge in fields including virology, nutrition science and parasitology.

In 1979, the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research was established as an organization affiliated with the University of Ghana's school of medicine, and approximately 2.5 billion yen in funding for building and materials costs were provided at that time by the Japanese government.

Since then, the institute has worked with Japanese researchers through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to receive training in disciplines including infectious diseases. In 2019, a facility with advanced technology offering more accurate testing and experimentation was completed with a future outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever in mind. The Japanese government contributed 2.3 billion yen to its construction.

Along with its investments in equipment, Japan has put its effort into supporting people's training. JICA is attempting to position Noguchi as a regional center for efforts against infectious diseases, and supports the acceptance of researchers from West African countries including Nigeria, Liberia and others for training. In fiscal 2019 a total of 15 people from 9 countries took part in the scheme. Among Noguchi's employees involved in work relating to PCR tests, some have also received training in testing technology in Japan.

As of July 2, Ghana had 18,134 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, and 117 deaths.

(Japanese original by Mitsuyoshi Hirano, Foreign News Department)

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