THE School of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Namibia has embarked on a pilot project, the first in Africa, to train detection dogs and deploy them to detect COVID-19 in people.
The trained dogs will assist in a unique way with the health and safety of Namibia’s COVID-19 prevention efforts and can make a huge difference in the recovery of the national economy.
The Capricorn Group has already donated N$5 million to the Namibian Government to assist in the fight against COVID-19 during 2020. To support this unique new pilot project, the company has committed a further N$ 80 000.
Under the project supported by the Ministry of Health and Social Services, dogs are being trained to detect COVID-19 at airports, schools, harbours, sporting events, and large gatherings, Conrad Brain, a veterinary surgeon at the school, said.
The procedure consists of an underarm swap to gather moisture exuded through the pores of the skin. The dogs then sniff the samples, and so far they have never had a false negative. 98% of the selected positive samples have been COVID-19 positive.
Currently, dog trainers and handlers have successfully trained four Beagles named Beauty, Bat, Amy, and Adam, who have proven themselves capable of doing the job. These dogs can be considered true heroes in the fight against COVID-19.
COVID-19 symptoms can take days to develop, and many asymptomatic cases can spread the virus unknowingly. Still, this project can evolve into a fast and effective way to detect and isolate infected people, which will further curb the spread of the virus into communities.
“The dogs have learned to identify the molecular level of the samples,” he said adding that the school is currently using Beagles as the preferred dog breed for now, because they come across as less intimidating to the public.
“In the future, we want to start training dogs from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Namibia. The radius for the smell of all dogs is approximately 1.5 meters. Therefore, all breeds should be able to do this,” Brain said.
Dr. Brain added that dogs’ noses are 100 or more times better than those of humans. He said a well-trained dog can smell up to 30 to 40 different kinds of scents.
The dogs are also able to process the samples of 17 people in less than two minutes which can contribute to overall cost-cutting for COVID testing since one dog, and its handler equals four police officers, a doctor, and more people needed test for the virus.
He said dog trainers and handlers have so far successfully trained four Beagles.
The contribution from Capricorn Group towards the project will enable more dogs to be trained, and also ensure they are well-taken care of with top of the range nutrition food that will support them throughout the project and on their off times. Lady Pohamba Private Hospital helps the project with the evaluation of the samples while the team from UNAM’s School of Veterinary Medicine is grateful for the support and equipment supplied by both the government and other universities.
‘‘The Capricorn Group, as connectors of positive change, is excited to be part of such an exciting project in collaboration with public and private institutions. The pilot project is the first of its kind in Africa. This initiative is a significant stride for Namibia and if successful, can make a significant contribution in the country’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic: said Marlize Horn, Capricorn Group’s Executive Officer: Brand and Corporate Affairs.