By any standards, we are living through one of the most difficult periods of recent human history where every nation is facing the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.
Apart from the various restrictive measures put in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus such as lockdowns, curfews and suspension of international flights, what you will see in every corner of the world is a great collaborative effort between countries to support those who are affected. Most importantly, nations are working to create new vaccines, which will enable mankind to put an end to this pandemic.
However, some of these transnational collaborative efforts in the fields of biomedical research and public health engagements did not start with this pandemic. In the case of Japan and Kenya, the collaboration in biomedical research began as far back as the late 1970s, when the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) was born, with Japan providing support towards the construction of this ultra-modern biomedical research centre.
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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 it also provided scholarships for Kenyan research scientists to study in Japan.
So long before the current global public health crisis, Japan and Kenya have been collaborating for more than 40 years to create and develop Kemri, which has now become the centre of biomedical research not only in Kenya but also in East Africa. Kemri is currently in the forefront, playing a very significant role 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 one of the key factors of ‘Big Four Agenda’, which is Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
Indeed, if there is one thing that the Covid-19 pandemic has made uncompromisingly clear, it is that every country, rich or poor, should strive towards UHC, as any alternative systems for public healthcare are simply not up to the task of saving lives when a major pandemic strikes.
Citizens should visit any health facilities with confidence that they will receive the best treatment possible, without having a worry about the cost of the treatment.
In our long term and ongoing funding of UHC, Japan had already disbursed Sh4 billion back in 2015 – this was mainly 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 same project.
Since this is a loan and not a grant, I feel I should answer some questions that are increasingly coming up in the global media. These questions 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 even 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 pr cent. This makes it very affordable for Kenya to repay, even as it continues in its journey towards UHC. Of course, the immediate challenge is Covid-19, and on this too, Japan stands with Kenya to provide the much-needed support. I salute all the frontline healthcare workers in Kenya who have been working tirelessly and have devoted their time and energy to care for patients. We believe it is right to direct our support towards these healthcare workers. We have signed another Grant Exchange of Notes at the beginning of this month to provide medical equipment to hospitals.
This assistance of Sh1 billion will be utilised to procure various medical equipment, such as X-ray machines for 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 to water purification facilities. We are also planning to provide funds for the procurement of customised ambulances with medical equipment.
Furthermore, at the multilateral level, 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 – to help Kenya take necessary steps in curbing the spread of the coronavirus and treating those who are infected. Japan believes we can overcome this pandemic together.
-Mr Ryoichi is the Japanese ambassador to Kenya