Health

Kemri testing kits crisis hurts virus war as cases surpass 80,000-mark

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A medic collects a swab sample from a Kibra resident in Nairobi. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG

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Summary

  • A report tabled before Parliament shows that Kemri has been carrying out 4,700 tests for Covid-19 a day, less than half of its 10,000 at full capacity across all its laboratories.
  • The under-testing for Covid-19 has slowed down Kenya’s efforts to better understand where the coronavirus is spreading and how to stop outbreaks.
  • The report shows that Kemri laboratories in Nairobi and Kisumu account for the highest number of tests per day at 1,500 each.

The Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) is testing for Covid-19 at half its daily capacity due to inadequate testing reagents slowing down the fight against the disease.

A report tabled before Parliament shows that Kemri has been carrying out 4,700 tests for Covid-19 a day, less than half of its 10,000 at full capacity across all its laboratories.

Kenya has tested 861,561 samples from a population of 47 million since March, dwarfed by countries like South Africa, which has tested more than 5.3 million samples from a population of 58.7 million people in the same period.

The shortage of testing reagents has been blamed on lack of funds and a decision by the US to suspend exports of the reagents used for chemical analyses of the samples.

The under-testing for Covid-19 has slowed down Kenya’s efforts to better understand where the coronavirus is spreading and how to stop outbreaks.

“Kemri’s testing capacity is up to 10,000 tests per day using both manual and automated systems…however, this is sometimes constrained by the erratic supply of laboratory consumables and PPE,” the research agency told Parliament on Thursday.

The US government placed an embargo on the exportation of any reagents for Roche and Abbott machines that are used for molecular testing, a move that prompted a global shortage of the reagents and forced Kenya to shift to manual testing whose results take longer than molecular (automated) testing.

The report shows that Kemri laboratories in Nairobi and Kisumu account for the highest number of tests per day at 1,500 each.

Kemri laboratories in Kilifi and Busia each test 500 samples per day. Mandera County record the lowest tests for the disease at 100.

Kemri added that a low number of technical staff with the required skills to test for the disease has further hampered Kenya’s fight against Covid-19 as the country grapples with a second wave of the infections.

Kenya started phased easing of restrictions including the resumption of domestic and international flights, lifting movement bans into four counties and re-opening of bars and learning institutions.

Confirmed Covid-19 cases have reached 80,102 after 780 new infections yesterday up from 47,843 on October 23, reflecting average daily infections of 998 in the last 30 days after the easing of the restrictions.