EDITORIAL: Diversify the sourcing of Covid-19 testing kits

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe
Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Kenya has scaled down on testing due to a lack of reagents, at a critical time when it is considering fully reopening the economy, including schools.

But it has been fighting the fire blindfolded and cannot claim to be flattening the Covid-19 curve when testing has been inconsistent.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe told Parliament last week that the country was staring at a crisis after the US stopped the exportation of reagents to test for Covid-19.

The shortage of testing reagents is not a Kenyan problem alone.

What Kenya hasn’t done is diversify the sourcing of the reagents.


South Africa has done nearly 3.76 million tests and recorded more 636,884 positive cases, thanks to sourcing of the reagents and testing machines from different manufacturers. Kenya has done about 474,477 tests that had recorded 35,103 positive cases.

South Africa sources its Covid-19 test kits, which include reagents and consumables or cartridges for testing machines from Swiss company Roche, US companies Cepheid and Thermofisher, and South Korean company Seegene. Some tests are used on specific diagnostic machines, while others are universal.

Using several tests and machines has allowed the country to avert testing interruptions. Laboratory technicians regularly switch between diagnostic machines depending on what test materials are available.

Second, let Kenya and other African countries push for transparency in the global distribution of the test materials. In April, manufacturers told Africa and Latin America that their orders would delay for months because almost everything they produce is going to the US or Europe. Developing countries are losing out to rich countries with deep pockets and great negotiating power in accessing the materials.

Thirdly, let the manufacturers sell patents to allow for cheaper generic varieties or share the recipes to African laboratories to ramp up their testing capability.

Without widespread testing, health officials and policymakers will be flying blind, and they will not be able to measure the true extent of coronavirus infections in the population.