Kemri develops rapid test kits for Covid-19, malaria

Wednesday, February 16th, 2022 00:00 | By
Health CAS Rashid Aman commissions Malaria and Covid diagnostic kits during the 12th Kemri Annual Scientific and Health Conference. Photo/PD/Kenna Claude

Kenya yesterday achieved a milestone following the local manufacture of rapid testing kits for Covid-19 and malaria which is expected to drastically reduce the cost of treating the two diseases.

This is after the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) developed a rapid test kit known as Plasmochek, for the detection of the Malaria causing parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, which will reduce the cost of testing for malaria from Sh300 to as low as Sh60.

KEMCoV-19, the Kemri-manufactured Coronavirus test kit in the market, will, according to Health Chief Administrative Secretary Rashid Aman reduce the cost of detective Covid-19 to around Sh1,500 from a high of between Sh8,000 and Sh11,000 for the imported commodities.

“This is quite a drastic reduction. This will place the product not only in the local market but also in the private market,” Dr Aman said, noting that the task now will be to develop strategies of getting the test kits beyond the government guaranteed market to the private sector.

“It is a milestone for us to be able to develop a product of this nature in this country because we have been importing these products over the years,” he added during the unveiling of the test kits in Nairobi.

Market penetration

Kemri said the two products  will save the government Sh58 million for the malaria kits and Sh405 million for the Covid-19 PCR tests annually.

He acknowledged that malaria remains a major killer in Kenya especially for children and pregnant women.

“We consume a lot of these products and we spend a lot of resources to import them from countries such as China, Korea and India,” he said.

Aman said the premier medical research institute in the country stands a chance of penetrating the market very quickly, given the affordability of the new products.

“In terms of reduction of the price, Kemri stands a chance of penetrating the market very quickly,” he added, saying the government will support local institutions that develop such products. “We will also prioritise procurement of products like this one.”

The Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB) has approved the test kits.

In Kenya, there are an estimated 3.5 million cases of malaria which is responsible for 10,700 deaths every year.

Dr Damaris Matoke-Muhia, the Deputy Director for Biotechnology Research Programme at Kemri, said the Pasmochek’s accuracy and sensitivity is 100 per cent.

“It can be used in low resource health facilities particularly where microscopy and human resources are unavailable. It will be available across the country,” she said during yesterday’s ceremony which was also used to launch the 12th Kemri Annual Scientific and Health conference.

PCR test

It emerged yesterday that the Ministry of Health has already procured through the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) thousands of Plasmochek test kits. 

Kenya has been depending on imported pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical commodities for decades, but with the recent upgrading to a middle income economy, the country has found itself in a limited position of receiving rebate-based donations.

Aman said that even with the introduction of the new test kits, the PCR test will still remain for a while for purposes of those traveling outside the country.

“It is going to be a requirement even as we vaccinate, more and more people will need a PCR test to travel outside the country.”

The kit has also been approved by the PPB for diagnostic use and will be available across the country. 

Kemri’s Deputy Director in charge of Commercial Services Cecilia Wanjala said the institution’s Commercial Enterprises department has an elaborate marketing strategy to put the two products in the market. “We are targeting not only the local market but also the regional and international markets.

We aspire to save this country in excess of Sh58 million annually on malaria test kits and also Sh405 million on Covid testing,” she said.

Wanjala said through these kits and marketing attempts, Kemri is going to increase prompt diagnosis of Covid-19 and malaria. “And this will be a big step towards Universal Health Coverage,” she added.

The medic revealed that there is a plan to introduce value addition on the kit so that it is used at the community level.

In the second phase, Kemri is targeting Community Health Workers (CHWs) in empowering them to be able to use the kit more efficiently. “And we hope to be able to have groundbreaking results that help us to develop more health products and health technologies,” she said.

In July last year, President Uhuru Kenyatta gave a green light for the launch of the malaria product when he visited the Kemri, Kilifi Centre.

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