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Tetanus vaccine row returns to haunt Kenya

 Tetanus Toxoid Vaccine row returns to haunt Kenya. (Photo: Courtesy)

The 2014 spat between the Catholic Bishops and State over safety of — Tetanus Toxoid Vaccine —for women is back with possible deadly health consequences.

Last week, NASA presidential candidate Raila Odinga, like the Catholics, claimed the vaccine had been laced with an anti-fertility hormone that sterilised thousands of women. Before Rail’s claims on Monday, the last official public communication on the matter was made by the Church on 14 January 2015. The statement signed by all Catholic bishops led by John Cardinal Njue, Chairman, Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops insisted the vaccine had been contaminated.

The statement came four days after the two parties had disagreed on what should have been the final and decisive lab results carried out under a joint committee brokered by Parliament. These results were scheduled for presentation at a press conference at the University of Nairobi, on January 10.

This however did not happen because the Government side boycotted the event and second the Church had only a preliminary report from only one of several local and foreign laboratories both parties had claimed to have engaged. Co-chair to the joint committee Dr Stephen Karanja for the bishops said they were releasing the preliminary reports from a local lab which he declined to name.

He promised that the final results including findings from the other participating foreign labs, which he also did not name would be announced later.

Two months earlier the Ministry of Health had assured Kenyans that the two parties had agreed to have the tests done at several reputable facilities.

“As we speak the samples are being airlifted to the United Kingdom and South Africa while additional tests are going on at the Kenya Medical Research Institute,” Mr James Macharia the then Cabinet Secretary for Health told Saturday Standard.

Mr Macharia, then on official business to Thailand said on telephone interview that they had agreed on the modalities of testing procedures with the Catholic Church.

Today, almost three years later these results have never been released. The results presented by Dr Karanja had been done at AgriQ Quest Kenya Ltd, a firm based at Plessey House along Mombasa Road which specialises on agricultural lab services. AgriQ Quest capacity came into doubt in January when the Kenya Accreditation Service (Kenas) suspended it license on claims it had failed to meet the required lab standards.

In a report appearing in Business Daily, the company’s CEO, Fredrick Muthuri, had confirmed that the license had been suspended.

AgriQ Quest came into the tetanus issue after previous tests sponsored by the Catholic bishops at Lancet Kenya, the University of Nairobi and Nairobi Hospital and which Mr Odinga cited in his claims had been disputed by the Ministry of Health and UN experts.

A joint statement by the WHO and UNICEF said the vaccine needed to be done “in a suitable” lab. The joint tetanus committee may have failed to engage with reputable facilities abroad.

“Most of these are accredited by the WHO and are doing big business with UN and donor groups to Africa, hence are unlikely to bite the feeding hand,” said a source.

But there are indications that Ministry of Health and the Church may have been consulting behind closed doors, away from the public glare.

“Subsequent consultative meetings between the ministry and representatives of the Catholic Church have given the vaccine a clean bill of health,” Dr Mailu said in response to Odinga’s allegations. Mailu warned that such allegations could have serious consequences on public health.


[Additional reporting by Jacky Mahugu]

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