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Home / Health & Science

Shock of Covid-19 kits held at port

HEALTH & SCIENCEBy MERCY KAHENDA | Tue,Jul 20 2021 14:10:00 EAT
By MERCY KAHENDA | Tue,Jul 20 2021 14:10:00 EAT


Kemri Deputy Director Matilu Mwau said the shortage of the kits has affected testing. [Courtesy]

An acute shortage of testing kits is compromising Kenya's fight against coronavirus.

The rapid antigen testing kits have been unavailable for the last one month, according to officials. Counties rely on the national government for the supply of the kits which is mainly done on demand.

Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) Deputy Director Matilu Mwau said the shortage of the kits has affected testing in both public and private laboratories across the country.

Covid 19 Time Series


As a result, Prof Mwau said, the country is not testing as many samples as it used to. "There has been a hitch in the movement of the kits from the warehouse to laboratories," said the virologist.

“We have Covid-19 testing kits in the country only that they have not been released from the warehouse. This is affecting our capacity to test as well as our efforts to contain the disease,” said Mwau.

Mwau added: “The supply chain has a problem. All laboratories in the country do not have testing kits. At the moment, a laboratory may get about 50 or 100 kits, which are not sufficient.”

A source at the Health Ministry told The Standard the kits are available but have been locked up at the port of Mombasa.

"The antigen testing kits were shipped in and have been at the port. We do not know why they are not being released. No one is saying anything," said the source.

Mombasa is currently depending on Kemri Kilifi to test its Covid-19 samples, according to the county's chief officer of public health, Ms Pauline Oginga.

“There is a serious shortage of testing kits. We are taking our samples to Kilifi for testing. This arrangement has affected contact tracing and treatment of patients, especially because the laboratory in Kilifi is serving the entire Coastal region,” said Oginga.

The Standard independently established that Kemri Kilifi is receiving Covid-19 swabs from all the counties in the region - Tana River, Taita Taveta, Kwale, Kilifi and Mombasa.


Mombasa is currently depending on Kemri Kilifi to test its Covid-19 samples. [Courtesy]

On the other hand, patients in Kakamega County are being referred to private hospitals and laboratories to take Covid tests.

Kakamega's health executive Collins Matemba said they have not received the testing kits over the past week.

"We are therefore forced to send patients to St Elizabeth Mukumu, St Mary’s Mumias and private laboratories, including Lancet, for the tests,” said Dr Matemba.

For instance, Trans Nzoia, one of the 13 counties in Western and Nyanza regions that have been declared Covid-19 red zones and put under stricter containment measures, had just 130 testing kits on Sunday.

The county's health executive Claire Wanyama said the kits were not adequate as the number of those needing to be tested is on a steady increase.

At the same time, Wanyama said, the county lacks GeneXpert cartridges used for the qualitative detection of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. 

"Inconsistency in the supply of the kits has affected testing. We are on and off and this is affected our war against coronavirus. Other than the inadequacy of the antigens, we are also faced with the problem of lack of genexpert cartridges,” she told The Standard.

From March last year to Sunday, the county had carried out 11,782 Covid-19 tests against 1,562 infections.

On Sunday, Trans Nzoia’s positivity rate stood at 13 per cent against 8.8 per cent nationally.

In Turkana, health officials said they have not received the testing kits from the national government for several weeks now. However, support from United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) has ensured Turkana's war against the disease has remained on course.

“We do not have a shortage of the testing kits thanks to the support UNCHR has been giving us, supplementing what the national government supplies to us,” said an official.

Machakos health minister Ancent Kituki said the testing kits they have will only last for the next two weeks.

“ClintonHealth has also promised to send us 3,000 test kits," said Dr Kituki.

 Trans Nzoia carried out 11,782 Covid-19 tests against 1,562 infections between March 2020 and July 2021. [Courtesy]

Prof Makau said the Health ministry should supply enough antigens to enable people to take the tests at home.

Home testing, he said, will enhance data on who has been tested with antigens and boost the fight against the pandemic that continues to ravage the country.

“Antigen tests are reasonably effective. We hope they can be supplied in plenty to enable people to take the tests from home. This will help us to know the exact status of coronavirus in Kenya,” said Mwau.

The ministry’s July 18 Covid-19 status report noted that 2,053,912 cumulative tests have been conducted since the pandemic was reported in Kenya.

In the report, the ministry of Health listed shortage of testing kits as one of the major challenges facing the war on Covid-19.

“There is also a shortage of sampling kits in several counties which have as well affected testing of suspected cases. This has also affected contact tracing,” read the ministry’s report.

Mwau said while vaccination and strict containment measures have helped break the chain of transmission, hospitalisations and deaths, there is a need to revamp testing.

Meanwhile, scientists are yet to explore sequencing due to lack of funds.

Mwau said most of those who have been found to be Covid-19 positive have Delta variant.

Last week, the United Kingdom announced it would support Kenya in genomic sequencing, through the UK New Variant Assessment Platform Programme (NVAP), as part of the Kenya-UK Heath partnership.

“We welcome the UK government initiative as it will strengthen Kemri Wellcome Trust, to do sequencing in a bigger way,” Prof Mwau.

Other than Delta, other variants of concern in Kenya are Alpha and Beta.

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