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Covid-19: State agencies back down from testing public

Monday July 13 2020
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A medical officer at Kemri takes a sample for the Covid-19 testing. PHOTO | BRIAN ONGORO | AFP

By NASIBO KABALE

As coronavirus cases continue to surge, the Health ministry is changing its testing strategy as it seeks to stamp out corruption.

The Nation has established that State testing centres, including the National Public Health Laboratory Services, Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) and the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) are no longer testing the public, a move that will affect many who rely on free screening.

In a memo to all directors and heads of departments, for example, senior director of clinical services at KNH, Dr Irene Inwani, said following the decision that Mbagathi isolation unit will only admit Covid-19 confirmed cases, the unit will no longer handle any suspected cases or screen the public.

“The head of Unit Respiratory Infectious Diseases is directed to stop all the screening activities and public testing at the KNH Mbagathi IDU,” she stated.

This comes after a nurse at KNH was charged alongside one of the recipients of a coronavirus-free certificate at the Milimani Law Courts in Nairobi. 

Kemri, on the other hand, announced it would no longer collect Covid-19 samples for testing, but will instead test samples from designated testing centres following claims that private facilities were charging for tests that were conducted at the agency using donated kits.

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Government officials have so far downplayed the effectiveness of wider testing, while critics accuse them of doing so to hide shortage of test kits.

Mr Peterson Wachira, the chairman of the clinical officers union, said the decision not to test widely and systematically despite the benefits of such a strategy as has shown in other countries like South Korea is unfortunate.

“The commitment by the government to move from targeted testing to mass testing was great. However, now with this backtracking of State institutions like KNH, which says it will not test suspected cases, we’re in trouble because a majority of cases are asymptomatic and lack of screening and testing sites, especially in public facilities, could be detrimental to the fight against Covid-19,” he said.

Kenyans will rely on rapid response teams who collect samples from organisations and institutions that have requested for testing as well as quarantine facilities.

There are also rapid response teams in counties and few hospitals that submit their samples to national labs.

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