KEMRI set to analyse close to 40, 000 COVID-19 samples in a day

Friday, April 10th, 2020 19:19 |
Prof. Matilu Mwau, KEMRI scientist leading COVID-19 samples testing. Photo: George Kebaso

Scientists at Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) are about to start mass testing of Coronavirus with high hopes to get results for close to 40, 000 samples within just 24 hours.

Prof. Matilu Mwau, who is leading a group of scientists testing COVID-19 has confirmed this feat is achievable after successfully converting existing machines that used to test for Tuberculosis, Avian Flu and HIV.

He told People Daily on Good Friday the conversion of some Abbot Cobas machines spread in government testing facilities and KEMRI Centres across the country's have already shown great results.

"We are soon making a breakthrough in terms of innovating COVID-19 test kits (re-agents and Viral Transport Medium - VTM - kits)," Mwau, KEMRI Alupe Busia Centre Director said.

This puts the country at a better position in terms of preparedness to carry out massive tests of between 30, 000 to 40, 000 samples in 24 hours, he added.

This also puts Kenya in the African map after South Africa and Senegal as one of the countries that are prepared to tackle the COVID-19 virus.

Already, the virus has claimed six lives including four adult makes, a child and a female.

By Friday, the government announced that the COVID-19 confirmed positive cases had risen to 189 from 184 within 24 hours.

Mwau said the optimism to carry out mass testing has been made possible by converting machines that were used for testing TB,  Avian Flu and HIV. 

"Some of these machines include; the Abbot Cobas 6800 and 8800, the GeneExpert for testing TB, are available in government labs and at KEMRI centres across the country," Mwau said.

Last week, Mwau exudwd confidence, the KEMRI scientists will provide support solutions aimed at vanquishing the virus "soonest."

He told People Daily exclusively that the scientists at the institution has embarked on studying the virus with a view to making test kits, and possibly a vaccine.

"We also want to understand it because we are curious to see whether we are capable of making test kits for it here. We similarly want to know whether it is agreeable to make a vaccine here.

“This thing is a menace and chaotic and we will want to make a vaccine for it. I am going to find out. This thing cannot defeat us. It is a petty virus,” he said.

He said KEMRI has capacity to make vaccines and test kits.

“We have powerful sequencers that were used for human genomes. So I can even do a human genome if I wanted to; I can do this virus genome like 500 of them in a week from 500 different people, and then we have mastered bioinformatics, so we know how to do that data,” he added.

The scientists’ confidence is drawn from the years of working on viruses saying however, much difficult they could be, using bio-informatic tools and epidemiological knowledge they have been able to predict what the flu would be like, and develop vaccines for them.

Lead consultant pathologist at Lancet Group of Laboratories, a network of private labs, Dr. Ahmed Kalebi said not many countries in Africa have capacity to do commercial or large scale production of these kits.

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