Covid-19: Reagents shortage hits Kisumu testing centre

Wednesday July 29 2020

A researcher tests samples for the Covid-19 virus at the Kenya Medical Research in Kisumu on April 23, 2020. PHOTO | BRIAN ONGORO | AFP


Kenya Medical Research Institute laboratory in Kisumu was Wednesday not receiving fresh Covid-19 samples for testing due to shortage of reagents, the Nation has established.

The Nation confirmed that the last samples from across Western and Nyanza counties were taken on Monday.

Reliable sources from the centre based in Kisian, Kisumu told the Nation that the laboratory had exhausted the last supplies it received from the National Public Health Laboratories.

The shortage is likely to cause delays in releasing results for samples picked from across the counties in the region. 

Siaya, Kisumu, Homa Bay, Kisii, Migori, Trans Nzoia, Narok, Baringo, Turkana, Nyamira, Uasin Gishu, Bungoma, Kakamega, Vihiga, Nakuru, Bomet are some of the counties that depend on the Kemri Kisian lab to test Covid-19.

Siaya County which is one of the counties that depends on the regional lab had it last batch of samples results for 171 picked up on Monday. The samples were all negative.


"Yesterday’s samples are still being analysed. There are no reagents, so we are no longer accepting additional samples from the counties beginning Tuesday," sources told Nation.

"We don’t know how long it will take but we hope it will happen soon enough not to disrupt the exercise," the source said, adding “as soon as we get new supplies we will be back to business,” the source said.

Reached for comment, Prof Matilu Mwau in charge of Kemri testing facilities said manual reagents came last week but the documentation had some problems, causing the delay in distribution.

He said there are at least 40,000 manual testing reagents and distribution was going on, starting Tuesday.

“The documentation had some issues which had to be corrected by procurement and that is why they were not distributed. But allocation has already been done and it is now it is about Kemsa to physically take the reagents to the labs, the labs can now have them,” he said.

He said Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (Kemsa) had already procured an additional 100,000 manual testing reagents.

“Yesterday they were distributing 30,000, the facilities started receiving yesterday,” he said.

He, however, indicated that the automated reagents were available in plenty.

Prof Matilu, an infectious disease expert added that Kemri has come to the realization that it has to manage people’s expectations in terms of perceived delays when it comes to Covid-19 testing.

“It seems to us that people are complaining about in a delay in results. For coronavirus testing, releasing results after 24 to 36 hours seems to be quite slow in the eyes of the public, but for us in the labs who deal with large numbers of samples, that seems to be super-efficient compared to HIV testing,” he said.

“We have come to the conclusion that we have to manage people’s expectations better. For instance, people want the results to be available to them in 12 hours because we have not explained to the complexities of managing a national programme. We need to do a better job of explaining to the public the complexities of managing a national programme, so that we are able to manage the national expectations,” he stated.

He assured that there were enough reagents to meet the demand. “We have more reagents than the demand for tests. It means we need to manage people’s expectations better,” he stated.

Our sources claimed the crunch was more as a result of politics around distribution than shortage.

"The issue is distribution from Nairobi not even lack of the reagents," our sources said, “I am told it is because of some politics.”

Nation could not immediately establish the number of samples that were yet to be analyzed and results released from the Western and Nyanza counties.

A Covid-19 testing centre that was set up at the Kakamega County Referral Hospital by the county government over a month ago is yet to be operationalised, hence samples are still being taken to Kisumu for testing. Its establishment was expected to ease the pressure on Kisumu and Eldoret.

Sources told Nation on Wednesday the Kakamega Covid-19 testing has not started testing patients since the county government is in the process of procuring additional equipment to operationalize the facility.

In an interview with Nation earlier last month, the county executive for Health Services Ms Rachael Okumu had indicated that the county had met all the requirements for the Covid-19 testing centre in the region.

 “We are waiting for an approval form the Ministry of Health to start carrying out the tests at the hospital. We have set up the testing centre and it will be up and running in the next few days,” said Ms Okumu had said early June.

"We have the equipment at the laboratory for testing Covid-19. What we are lacking is are the reagents needed for the tests. We are expecting the Ministry of Health to inspect and approve the facility in the next few days,” the county health CEC had said.

The county chief officer for health Services Dr Beatrice Etemesi indicated then that the facility has two equipment with a capacity to test 16 samples each on an eight-hour shift. According to the official, the testing kits have been approved by the US Food Drug Administration.