UK to support Kenya in Covid variants research
George Kebaso and Alvin Mwangi
Kenya’s fight against Covid-19 received a boost yesterday when the United Kingdom government announced plans to support research in genome sequencing.
Through the partnership, Kenya will be able to conduct about 200 genome sequencing each week by next month.
Genome sequencing assists countries to determine the existing and emerging variants of the virus.
Currently, only 40 genomic sequencing investigations are being conducted a week.
Successful genome sequencing would increase the chances of Kenya being removed from the red list of countries whose visitors are subjected to quarantine before being allowed into the UK.
However, this will happen only if Kenya is going to step up testing for and vaccination against the disease.
British High Commissioner to Kenya Jane Mariott yesterday said there is a good sign that Kenya will come out of the red list as the country has stepped up vaccination efforts.
“Our aim is to ensure that our scientists will be in a position to know the type of Covid variant dominant in the country.
As the vaccinations increase, genome sequencing increases and we have more confidence about how we manage the virus,” she said.
Some 117,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines arrived from the UK recently to boost the vaccination campaign.
“We are reviewing the red list all the time, and we hope Kenya can come off from the red list before too long,” she said in Kangemi, Nairobi yesterday where she toured a Covid vaccination clinic.
Mariott, however, said the challenge is the emergence of variants such as the Beta, Delta and others that have seen an increase in new infections in the country in recent weeks.
Last week, the UK moved India, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from the red list to the amber list.
Mariott said the four countries had carried out a lot of vaccination, and high levels of genomic sequencing.
“If vaccinations increase and genomic sequencing increases then we will have confidence together about how we manage Covid, and hopefully come off the red list,” the envoy added, noting that new Covid infections were currently going up.
On the genomic sequencing, she said the two governments were sorting out paperwork.
“Our scientists are working together and hope that by September we would start seeing the ability of genomic sequencing improving from the current 40 a week up to 200 which will put Kenya in a really strong position in the world in terms of the number of genomic sequencing,” she said.
“We want to keep working with Kenya to get it off the red list and help Kenya help the rest of the world manage Covid,” she added.
She said the recently donated AstraZeneca vaccine doses will help step up vaccinations. “It’s great that vaccines are rolling out in Kenya now, 2.3 million vaccines, that’s great.
I spoke to my opposite number from the US yesterday and he assured me that more vaccines are coming from the US. Together we will tackle this Covid.”
She said the Delta variant, a more transmissible variant was becoming prevalent across the world and called on governments to working together to fight the pandemic.
In April, the UK issued travel advisories to visitors from Philippines, Pakistan, Kenya and Bangladesh.
“British, Irish and third-country nationals with residence rights (including long-term visa holders) arriving from these countries will be required to self-isolate in a government-approved hotel quarantine facility for 10 days,” the travel advisory read.
Last month, the UK announced that Kenya will receive genomic sequencing support from the UK to fight Covid-19.
In a statement, Mariott said the support would be channeled through the UK’s New Variant Assessment Platform Programme (NVAP) as part of the Kenya-UK Health Partnership.
Kenya’s Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe said the contribution and support from the UK on genomic sequencing would assist in the better response to the pandemic.
On Tuesday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a Level 3 Travel Health Notice for Kenya due to Covid-19, indicating a high level of Covid-19 infections in the country.
Kenya launched a mass vaccination campaign against the disease last weekend. The exercise kicked off in 12 venues in Nairobi.