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Kemri’s new tech to enable Kenya conduct 35,000 Covid-19 tests daily

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Kenya has overcome a major bottleneck in mass testing for coronavirus, thanks to an innovation by the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri).

In a twist of irony, response to diseases that brought Kenya to its knees in the last decade — Aids, tuberculosis and a brush with the deadly avian flu in 2009 — is what has enabled this breakthrough.

From the current 600 tests per day, the innovation at Kemri will see Kenya process and get results for at least 35,000 samples in 24 hours.

Kenya will now use the Cobas 6800 or the 8800 HIV viral load machines and the GeneXpert used for point of care testing for tuberculosis. Prof Matilu Mwau, Kemri Busia director, told the Nation that the Cobas machine is able to run as many as 5,000 tests in a day.

“In the unlikely event that we get to that point, we will be ready,” he said in a recent interview.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe in his daily updates Tuesday said the ministry will be processing the results faster than usual and will prioritise healthcare workers and people in quarantine.

By yesterday, 4,923 people had been tested as positive cases shot to 172. The Cobas machines are at least in seven government testing centres, including Kemri centres in Busia, Kisumu and Kilifi.

There is one at the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, the Coast General Hospital in Mombasa and the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret. Several private labs in the country also own them.

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In a previous interview, GeneXpert coordinator Jeremiah Okari told the Nation that the machines especially efficient at detecting pulmonary TB, a respiratory illness like Covid-19.

For the machines to switch from HIV and TB tests to Covid-19, the government through the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) will order 100,000 special kits from Switzerland, with support from the World Health Organisation (WHO) Emergency Response Centre and the World Bank.

Kemsa Director Jonah Manjari told the Nation that the agency has ordered for the Cobas Sars-CoV-2 machines manufactured by Swiss multinational Roche, a kit that is able to test up to 4,128 patients in a day.

“Roche said they would be here in two weeks from their warehouses, and could be here faster if the clearing is done quickly,” he said.

The GeneXpert uses the Cepheid’s Covid-19 test and is able to provide accurate results in 45 minutes. So how will these work?

Using the juice-making analogy, Lancet Laboratories Director Ahmed Kalebi said the Cobas 6800/8800 and the GeneXpert are ‘blenders’ which need ‘sieves’ to make different types of juice.

However, these two ‘blenders’ have ‘sieves’ for making mango juices (testing HIV and TB) but also have the capability to take other sieves for orange juice (test for Covid-19). It is these ‘sieves’ that Kemsa has ordered for: the Sars-CoV-2 and Cepheid’s Covid-19 test.

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According to Omu Anzala, a member of the national Covid-19 task force and a professor of virology at the University of Nairobi, testing for Covid-19 is currently done on viral genetic material obtained from nose and throat swabs using reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR).

Respiratory Society of Kenya official Jeremiah Chakaya told the Nation that the “currently available test has a sensitivity of about 70 per cent, implying it will be falsely negative in up to 30 per cent of persons with Sars-CoV2”. To close this gap, Prof Anzala recommends that tests should be “run in triplicates and all of the three have to be positive for a diagnosis to be confirmed”

While there are several challenges that Kenya is experiencing with controlling Covid-19, the government has received praise from the regional health governing bodies for their laboratory capacity.

The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) and its American doppelganger raised the alarm that the figures in Kenya, and Africa in general, could be an under-representation due to limited testing capacity.

In a virtual meeting, Africa CDC Director Dr John Nkengasong told the Nation: “Africa does not manufacture its own diagnostics and this has left them at the mercy of procurement delays.”

This revelation comes at a time when evidence is mounting that mass testing, which involves the test-track-and-trace approach, can allow health officials to separate the infected from the healthy and stop the virus from spreading.

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The logic behind mass testing is suppression — efforts to reduce the infectivity of a pandemic. Those in the field of tracking diseases call this infectivity R0, or the R-naught.

Testing isolating people who are positive from those who are healthy is targeted to reduce the R-naught to less than one. Studies that have been carried out in Wuhan and other places show that, when unchecked, the R0 of Covid-19 is between 2 and 3, meaning that every infected person infects two to three others.

An R0 of less than 1 indicates that each infected person results in less than one new infection. When this happens, the outbreak will slowly grind to a halt.

The mass testing in Kenya has been hampered by lack of coronavirus test supplies ending in a long wait that has caused serious problems in the fight against the disease.

“Currently, the main gap to be addressed is the supply of reagents. If sample numbers increase, then a possible gap could be human resources for testing,” Kemri said on April 3.

Kenya’s biggest challenge for testing has been contact tracing, identifying then alerting people who have been within the infection range of a person confirmed to have the virus.

By NN


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Health

PS Kibicho reveals he contracted coronavirus

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Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho has revealed that he contracted coronavirus and recovered after undergoing treatment.

While addressing mourners in Kirinyaga County on Friday Dr Kibicho said Covid-19 is not a death sentence.

“I tested positive for coronavirus, but I was treated and discharged from hospital,” he said at Gathuthuini Primary School during the funeral service of a local church leader.

“I am a living example. Those who are suffering from the disease should not worry because they will get well,” he said, adding that out of 100 people who contract the disease in Kenya only two succumb to it.

Dr Kibicho advised Kenyans to be tested for the disease because it is curable.

“Kenyans should be tested to know their status so that they can be treated,” he said.

The PS also urged Kenyans not to stigmatise people who have contracted the virus.

“Covid-19 patients should be showed love and not rejection. When the patients are abandoned, they become depressed and may take longer to recover,” he said.

He also underscored the need for everyone to continue observing protocols issued by the Ministry of Health to control the spread of Covid-19.

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“People should wear masks, sanitise regularly, wash their hands and avoid crowded places,” he said.

The PS further said that city residents should avoid travel during the holidays.

“If I had power, I would lock Nairobi during the festive season to curb spread of the dis-ease to rural areas,” Dr Kibicho said.


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Shock as man ‘resurrects’ in a Kericho mortuary

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There was drama at Kapkatet sub-county hospital in Kericho on Tuesday night when a 32-year-old man who had been presumed dead and taken to the mortuary regained consciousness close to three hours later.

Mortuary attendants were getting ready to embalm Peter Kigen’s body when they noticed some movements.

Kigen, a resident of Kibwastuiyo village in Bureti Constituency, is said to have collapsed while at home before his family took him to hospital.

His younger brother, Kevin Kipkurui, said he was present when Kigen collapsed. With the help of their cousin, they took Kigen to the hospital at 5.30 pm.

“When we arrived at the casualty department, we met a doctor who asked us to register the details of the patient at the reception while he attended to him,” Kipkurui, who was still in shock, told The Standard.

After registering the patient, Kipkurui said he was again asked to the National Hospital Insurance Fund desk for further documentation of his brother.

Kigen reportedly suffers from a chronic illness.

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“When I went back to the casualty department at around 7.45 pm, I learnt my brother was dead. A nurse told me that he died long before we arrived at the hospital,” Kipkurui said.

READ ALSO:   VIDEO: Coronavirus cases jump to 25

He added: “The nurse later handed me a document to take to the mortuary attendant before my brother’s body was moved to the morgue.”

However, at 10.30 pm, Kipkuriu said, as they were waiting for embalming of Kigen’s body, they were informed that in fact, he was not dead.

Mortuary attendants who mummified the body told them that Kigen had regained consciousness.

“The mortician called me into the morgue and we saw him make movements. We were shocked. We could not understand how they could move a person who is still alive into the mortuary,” Kipkurui said.

Kigen, who spoke from his hospital bed yesterday, said he was shocked to learn that he was thought to have died and even taken to the mortuary.

“I cannot believe what just happened. How did they establish that I was dead?” he said.

Kirui, who donned his light-blue hospital uniform, was nevertheless happy to be alive and vowed to dedicate his life to evangelism once he’s discharged from hospital.

“I did not even know where I was when I regained consciousness, but I thank God for sparing my life. I will serve him for the rest of my life,” he said.

The hospital’s medical superintendent Gilbert Cheruiyot said Kigen was in critical condition when he was brought in.

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Dr Cheruiyot said: “His relatives presumed he was dead and did not even wait for certification of death. They moved him to the mortuary, on their own.”

He said the clinical officers at the casualty were busy attending to other critically ill patients when Kigen was brought in, including an epileptic and a diabetic patient.

“They asked Kigen’s relatives to give them some time but they accused the clinicians of taking too much time and decided to take him to the mortuary. It was while the mortician was getting ready to embalm his body that she noticed some signs of life,” said Cheruiyot. He said the mortician informed the team at the casualty department which took Kigen back and begun resuscitating him. The process took three hours before the patient was stabilised.

“The patient was later taken to the ward and is responding well to treatment. We hope to discharge him in a few days,” Dr Cheruiyot said yesterday.

He added: “I advise those bringing their loved ones to the hospital to follow the laid down regulations. Before a body is moved the mortuary, it has to be certified by a clinician. In Kigen’s case, we can only say he was lucky, especially because of our qualified mortician who checked him before making any move,” said Cheruiyot.

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The bizarre incident saw local MCAs, led by the Majority Leader Hezron Kipngeno, storm the hospital. This is after Chelanget MCA Hezborn Tonui demanded a statement from the heath committee over the incident that shocked the county.


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Janet Mbugua shares her Covid-19 scare

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Media personality Janet Mbugua has shared the tale of the time she faced a scare as thought she had contracted Covid-19 last month.

In a video she shared on Instagram, the former Citizen tv news anchor said she experienced Covid-19 symptoms which escalated quite quickly.

The video shows her being taken through the nasal swab test for Covid-19, which is known to very uncomfortable.

Luckily, the result for the mother of two came back negative.

Janet Mbugua said that her scary experience motivated her to fight the fear and stigma related to Coronavirus, and will use her platform to advocate for a vaccine.

This comes as Covid-19 cases continue to rise sharply in Kenya amid a rush by various pharmaceutical companies globally to come up with an effective vaccine.

By NN


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