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Kenya lacks test kits for deadly coronavirus

Health & Science
 National Assembly Health Committee Chairperson Sabina Chege during their meeting with Health Ministry at Continental House, Nairobi. [Boniface Okendo/Standard]

Kenya is at risk of a health crisis since not a single medical facility has tools to test for coronavirus.

It has emerged that the country lacks reagent kits to test the deadly coronavirus. Currently, all samples are taken to South Africa for testing.

Ministry of Health head of department for disease surveillance Daniel Langat told legislators that much as the institute has capacity to diagnose the virus, they did not have kits to test the disease.

Preliminary results

“As a country, we are prepared to combat the outbreak of coronavirus though the matter has been complicated by the newness of the virus. KEMRI has the capacity to diagnose the disease but we lack reagent kits and only a few countries in the world have them," Langat said.

Africa has only two referral laboratories to test for the new virus, according to World Health Organisation.

WHO Regional Director of Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti said due to the newness of the virus only two referral laboratories are available in Africa to carry out tests.

“Reagent kits are being shipped to more than 20 other countries in the region, so diagnostic capacity is expected to increase over coming days,” said Dr Moeti. 

The health officials said four people were quarantined after showing symptoms of coronavirus and the preliminary results indicated that they tested negative.

National Assembly Committee on Health chaired by Murang'a Woman Representative Sabina Chege on Tuesday summoned Ministry of Health officials to shed light on current status of the coronavirus.

Health PS Susan Mochache assured the committee that the ministry has put in place stringent measures to deal with any suspected case of the disease that has claimed dozens of lives in China even as the deadly disease continues spreading to other countries.

“We have identified four suspected cases whose samples were drawn and confirmatory tests concluded in South Africa found all are negative,” Mochache said.

The first suspected case was a student who had travelled from Beijing aboard a Kenya Airways flight via Dubai while the other arrived from China aboard a China Southern Airlines plane.

A female medical student from Southern Medical University in Guangzhou was admitted to Likoni Coast General Hospital after she exhibited signs of infection.

Mombasa County Chief Health Officer Khadija Shikely said the student, who arrived on Thursday last week was isolated at the Rehemtullah Ward in Mombasa County.

The unnamed student, in his early 20s, left Wuhan for Zhangjiajie City on January 20, travelled to Nairobi through Guangzhou in China and Bangkok, Thailand on January 27 and landed in Nairobi on January 28 but later test validated in South Africa showed the student was negative.

Nairobi County Woman Rep Esther Passaris asked the health officials to confirm whether they have bed capacity at Kenyatta National Hospital to accommodate patients and the timelines at which the results will be confirmed.

However, Langat explained that once a suspected case is detected, a sample is taken and the results can be relayed back in 24 hours after being shipped to South Africa though there has been some delays especially due to cargo clearance at the port.

Plans are underway to set up mobile isolation hospital with support from WHO as part of the preparedness strategy for any suspected cases of the coronavirus that might be detected in the country, said the health official.

He said two temporary isolation rooms have been identified at JKIA and another one set up at KNH with additional satellite facilities earmarked in Nairobi.

Former Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki said as part of the mitigative measures the ministry has constituted a multi-agency task-force comprising Ministries of Interior and Coordination, Defence, Foreign Affairs, for oversight and stewardship of the national responses.

Others include Kenya Airport Authority, the National Influenza Centre, Kenya Red Cross Society and development partners that have been activated to response to coronavirus outbreak.

Mrs Karuiki said they have notified all points of entry to conduct mandatory screening of incoming travelers from China and other affected countries.

The CS said the multi-agency task force was evaluating the repatriation of 85 Kenyan students in Wuhan, China when the lock-down is over. So far, China had received 20,438 reports of confirmed cases and 425 deaths in the mainland.

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