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Stage set for mass testing as Kenya steps up war on virus

Wednesday May 13 2020

A medic displays a new rapid testing kit for Covid-19. PHOTO | LILIAN SUWANRUMPHA | AFP

By VERAH OKEYO

The government has laid out an elaborate plan for mass testing as the war on Covid-19 intensifies. On Monday, the confirmed cases reached the 200 mark.

“In the last 24 hours we have tested 674 samples. Of these, 11 tested positive, bringing to 208 the total number of confirmed cases,” Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said Monday.

Tracking coronavirus

However, these are only the people who are in quarantine centres. Since 25 per cent of those infected are asymptomatic (positive but not showing symptoms), there could be more cases.

Recently, the Africa CDC Director, Dr John Nkengasong, said the numbers African countries are publishing as Covid-19 mortalities are “grossly underreported”.

In his daily press briefing, Mr Kagwe said the ministry will now target companies whose employees have tested positive, then the geographical locations from where other cases have been reported.

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“This has to be done in a targeted manner if it has to be effective... the issue is not our ability to test but the collection of samples,” the CS said.

Genetic material

Mr Omu Anzala, a member of the national Covid-19 task force and a professor in virology from the University of Nairobi, said testing is currently done on viral genetic material taken from the nose and throat swabs using a workhorse tool of molecular biology known as reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). These tests are done in triplicate.

The government recently said it would utilise the Cobas HIV viral load machines in seven institutions. The newer version of the machine, Cobas 8800, is able to process about 5,000 samples in 24 hours.

Last week, the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) received 7,000 kits that would make the Cobas able to test for Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

The Ministry of Health will also use the GeneXpert, which tests for tuberculosis in more than 200 sites in Kenya.

Prof Matilu Mwau, the Director of one of the Kemri centres in Busia that has the Cobas, said one of the things the government considered was how the samples would be collected and taken to the lab.

“Transportation is a factor that has to be considered. Those collecting the samples have to be in proper attire and have to carry them in cool boxes,” Prof Mwau said.

Contact tracing, the public health term for identifying and alerting people who have been within the infection range of a confirmed case, is one of those methods.

It’s considered a critical part of disease control when new cases are surging before the next strategy, which is suppression of the virus, to make sure it does not spread further than where it has already colonised.

So far, the ministry has monitored 2,306 contacts and more than half of them (1,687) of these have been released. Another 619 are being followed.

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