We are living through one of the most difficult periods of recent human history, with every nation battling Covid-19.
Apart from the various restrictive measures put in place to curb the spread of coronavirus, you will see in every corner of the world great collaborative efforts between countries to support those affected. Most importantly, countries are collaborating to come up with vaccine(s), which will enable mankind to put an end to this pandemic.
However, transnational collaborative efforts in the fields of biomedical research and public health did not start with this pandemic. In the case of Japan and Kenya, the collaboration began in 1970s when Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) was born. Japan provided support towards construction of this ultra-modern biomedical research centre.
Kemri formed partnerships with various Japanese universities to enhance their research capacity. Nagasaki University played a prominent role as it not only sent research personnel to work at Kemri but also provided scholarships for Kenyan scientists to study in Japan.
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So, Japan and Kenya have been collaborating for over 40 years to create and develop Kemri which is now the centre of biomedical research not only in Kenya but also in East Africa. Kemri is currently at the forefront in the battle against this deadly virus.
Our friendship is steadfast, even when our nations are facing the unprecedented burdens posed by the pandemic. Last month marked yet another important step in our journey. Through the Exchange of Notes, Japan will provide Kenya with financial assistance, in support of Universal Health Coverage (UHC), one of the pillars of the Big Four Agenda.
Indeed, if there is one thing that the pandemic has made uncompromisingly clear, it is that every country, rich or poor, must strive towards UHC as alternative public healthcare systems are simply not up to the task of saving lives when a major pandemic strikes.
Citizens should be able to visit any health facilities with confidence that they will receive the best care possible and without worrying about the cost of treatment.
By 2015, Japan had already disbursed approximately Sh4 billion to Kenya for the Health Sector Policy Loan Phase 1. The Exchange of Notes signed last month was an agreement for another Sh8 billion for Phase 2 of the project.
Since this is a loan, not a grant, I feel I should answer some of the questions, which I have noticed are increasingly coming up in the global media. These are: Will African nations end up with unsustainable debt if reduced economic activity leads to difficulty in paying existing loans, and will this not be made worse by any additional loans that African nations may take to help them fight the coronavirus pandemic?
My answer is that all loans extended by Japan through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) come with an exceptionally low interest rate and very generous grace periods.
In this specific project, the interest rate is only 0.95 per cent. This makes it very affordable for Kenya to repay the loan even as it continues in its journey towards UHC.
Of course, the immediate challenge is Covid-19, and on this Japan stands with Kenya to provide the much-needed support.
Before I go into the details of this support, I would like to salute all the frontline healthcare workers in Kenya who have devoted their time and energy to care for Covid-19 patients.
In this context, it is right to direct our support to these healthcare workers. We therefore signed another Grant Exchange of Notes at the beginning of this month to provide medical equipment to hospitals.
The assistance of Sh1 billion will be used to procure various medical equipment for a number of regional hospitals in Kenya. Secondly, JICA supplied Covid-19 PCR testing kits with the capacity of 50,000 tests to Kemri and three months’ worth of chlorine for water purification facilities. We are also planning to provide funds for the procurement of customised ambulances with medical equipment.
Furthermore, we have already disbursed about Sh344 million to Kenya through UNDP and Unicef for the procurement of medical equipment and capacity building for healthcare workers. These are all practical initiatives – adding up to a total of Sh10 billion – in order to help Kenya curb the spread of the coronavirus and treat the infected.
Japan strongly believes that we can overcome this pandemic together. Sisi Wajapani tuko pamoja na wananchi wa Kenya.
-Mr Ryoichi is the Japanese ambassador to Kenya.