Lagos — Red-gloved hands gently dip cotton swabs down nostrils and mouths of people taking turns to stand in front of a tall booth, masks lowered and head tilted backwards. Inside the booth to which the gloves are attached is a COVID-19 sample collector.

Set up by Nigerian health investment firm Flying Doctors in eight of the country’s worst-affected states, the mobile booths, which separate the sample collector from the people being tested, have boosted COVID-19 testing. Between 80 and 100 samples are collected per booth every day, although the number varies among states. Nigeria is conducting an average of 2500-3000 tests daily.

Flying Doctors founder, Dr Ola Brown, explains that at the start of the pandemic, Nigeria had few people trained to take COVID-19 test samples, and collectors would also visit people at homes to take samples, heightening infections risks through exposure.

“It [the sample collection booth] reduces to zero the number of infections on the people conducting the tests. Secondly, it also saves a lot of time compared [with] the people testing having to go to people’s houses to do the tests and thirdly, it saves money because people [are] not having to change their PPE [personal protective equipment]” frequently, says Dr Brown.

For Dr Walter Kazadi, World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Nigeria, “expanding access to services such as sample collection and diagnostic testing are critical for an effective response.” WHO continues to support Nigeria’s Centre for Disease Control and the national response system by providing resources for training and supplies for sample collection and testing.

The COVID-19 response across African has propelled a raft of innovations. Across the continent, innovators have worked to create tools to help public health experts manage challenges ranging from contact tracing and clinical care to local production of equipment and supplies as well as laboratory and testing materials.

Many of the innovations were already existing but have had to be redirected or adapted to COVID-19 response. For example, Zipline, a California-based firm, repurposed its high-speed drones that were in use in both Ghana and Rwanda to deliver medical packages to clinics and hospitals to now identify COVID-19 hotspots and collect samples. In anticipation of new treatments and vaccines that may become available, the company is poised to help with distribution.

In Kenya, to support contact tracing in public transport, a mobile phone-based application, mSafari, was launched in March by its developers in collaboration with the ministries of Health and Transport.