In a conversation with Professor Kaneko Satoshi, a biomedical researcher from Nagasaki University, he explains how while based in Kenya the university was instrumental in setting up key Tropical Disease programmes run by the Kenya Medical Research Institution (KEMRI) in collaboration with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)
Is there any special reason why Nagasaki University chose Kenya for its collaborative research work on tropical diseases?
In 1966, the Kenyan government requested the Japanese government to send a medical mission. At that time, the Japanese government asked Nagasaki University to send a medical team, to Nakuru Provincial Hospital for 10 years. Later, JICA initiated a project to establish KEMRI, and the team leader was Professor Hayashi of the Institute of Tropical Medicine of Nagasaki University. Subsequently, Nagasaki University participated in five JICA projects for KEMRI, and in 2005, Nagasaki University established a base in Kenya with the cooperation of KEMRI. Thus, the decision to come to Kenya was not made by choice, but by the historical outcome.
Where within Kenya do you have most of your projects? And what do these projects involve?
We have three stations in Kenya. One is a research facility at KEMRI in Nairobi, which plays the main role in conducting research in Kenya. Others are field stations. One is at the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Mbita, Homabay County, and another is at the Kwale Hospital compound in Kwale County.
Japan has been very generous towards Kenya when it comes to grant aid. How much in total would you say Japan (specifically JICA) has invested in the Kenya health sector, to help promote better health outcomes in the country?
According to JICA, projects supported are over 12 billion yen (Sh12 Billion) with some 25 free projects and two paid projects. However, the above figures are not included research grants that Nagasaki University has now for maintaining the research station and conducting research in Kenya.
Of all the contributions you and your colleagues (both Kenyan and Japanese) have made to the research on tropical diseases here in Kenya, what would you say is the most significant, and how was this result achieved?
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The most significant contribution is human resource development. We hope to continue contributing to the development of human resources who will lead health and medical research in Kenya. In terms of research results, I believe we have produced research results that can contribute to the future, such as research on bed nets for malaria prevention, development of diagnostics for neglected tropical diseases, research on maternal and child health, and development of new technologies such as biometric identification of newborns.
Opportunities for further studies mean a lot to Kenyans. Is there any programme you can tell us about which opens doors for Kenyans to study in Japan?
Yes, there are. One is the Japanese government scholarship programme and another a JICA-funded scholarship program for biomedical research.
A student exchange program between Nagasaki University and Kenya is also underway. This inter-university exchange program with Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenyatta University, and Maseno University.