KENYA— The Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) has launched a US$70,000 (Sh. 10.5 million) mobile morgue in order to expand its research operations on child mortality among children under the age of five.

This is KEMRI’s first mobile mortuary service in Africa, and it will assist in a research study that will investigate the causes of death in Siaya and Kisumu counties as part of the Child Mortality Studies.

This one-of-a-kind mobile facility was inaugurated on Wednesday, February 28, 2024, at the KEMRI Center for Global Health Research (CGHR) by Acting Director General Prof. Elijah Songok, who was joined by Dr. Richard Omore, the study’s principal investigator for the Child Health and Mortality Prevention Surveillance (CHAMPS) study.

The CHAMPS study will use the Minimal Invasive Testing Sampling (MITS) procedure Van, which involves collecting, analysing, and sharing evidence needed to design more effective and targeted interventions for child mortality prevention in high-risk regions.

The CHAMPS project has been running for 6 years and has been supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, whose CEO, Mr. Bill Gates, recently visited KEMRI to examine the progress of this unique and innovative study in the globe.

The newly launched MITS Van and accessories are projected to cost US$ 70,000 (sh. 10.5 million) and will be utilized by the research to provide evidence-based targeted interventions and resources where they are most required in terms of disease management and treatment.

The MITS Van concept arose from obstacles faced while enrolling community deaths, such as the requirement for prompt funerals and transportation issues, among others.

The truck, which is equipped with all of the gear needed to conduct an autopsy, has already performed over 1,000 post-mortem examinations, continuing the country’s efforts to eliminate infant mortality.

KEMRI collaborated with the community and partners to provide an innovation in which MITS is performed in a van within the community context if death happens within the required 24 hours.

A panel of experts reviews the MITs sample testing, clinical records, and spoken autopsy data. The Deciding Cause of Death (DECODE) panel, which includes a pathologist, an epidemiologist, a pediatrician, a microbiologist, and a neonatologist, determines the cause of death for each death.

Speaking at the KEMRI Centre for Global Health in Kisumu during the flagging off, Dr. Songok stated that the mobile morgue has proven to be an invaluable resource in the government agency’s research due to the high frequency of community fatalities among children under the age of five.

Dr. Richard Omore, for his part, highlighted that this will allow them to take samples quickly, noting that any delays in obtaining samples after 24 hours would not produce much as the sample would have already decayed and they would not be able to get the cause of death.

Preliminary findings from the CHAMPs study suggest that the major and surprise bacteria causing death in children of all ages is Klebsiella pneumoniae, which has never been recognized as a significant cause of death in previous investigations.

Malnutrition, malaria, HIV infections and sickness, congenital abnormalities (birth defects), pneumonia, and sepsis are some of the top causes of death among infants and children at Kenya’s study site, regardless of age.

Other prominent causes of death in children include sickle cell disease, low birth weight, and diarrhoea.

KEMRI is implementing the project in partnership with the Ministry of Health, the County Health Management Team, the Henry Jackson Foundation (HJF), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with funding from Emory University’s CHAMPS Network Program Office.

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