KENYA – Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) has launched the first locally made malaria and COVID-19 PCR diagnostic kits in a bid to boost timely detection and treatment of the two diseases.

The malaria rapid diagnostic kit (PlamoCheck) and the PCR COVID-19 testing kit (KEMCoV PCR) invented by local researchers at KEMRI will save the country and families from importation at a higher price.

The new KEMRI Covid-19 PCR kit will retail at KES 1,600 (US$14.08) per test compared to the imported kits that cost about KES 2,600(KES 22.88) per test and the test will be free of charge in public hospitals.

The KEMRI kits comprises a master mix and a probe mix for qualitative pathogen detection and characterization of SARS-Cov-2 RNA.

In addition, it works with samples mined from the throat or from deep inside the nose.

On the other hand, a single piece of the malaria test kit will retail at KES 60 US$0.53) compared to the existing kits that go for KES 300 (US$2.64) a piece.

During the diagnostic kits’ launch in Nairobi, the Chief Administrative Secretary of the Ministry of Health Rashid Aman noted that the two kits will go a long way in improving malaria diagnostics and COVID-19 disease detection which remain foremost health challenges not just in Kenya but across the globe.

The government will not only support KEMRI with the continued production of these kits but also purchase the products to ensure continuous research and improvement ultimately,” said Rashid Aman.

He further said that the Ministry of Health would start buying the testing kits in bulk.

We have done about three to four million covid-19 tests so far and they are expensive thus the health ministry will support KEMRI with production and be the main consumer of the product,” he said.

It is estimated that with wide uptake in Kenya, the local malaria kit will save the government KES 58 million (US$510,474) every year and the proceeds will then strengthen local research and development at the institute.

Kenya would save about KES 405 million (US$3,564,513) in one year if it takes up locally made Covid-19 kits.

Damaris Matoke, a Molecular Biology Scientist at KEMRI, confirmed that both kits have been reviewed and registered by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board.

They are available nationally and can be used in local health facilities nationally since they were found to have 100 per cent sensitivity and specificity,” reassured Damaris.

The two measures describe the accuracy of the test in determining if someone is positive or negative.

KEMRI is currently testing 70 per cent of COVID-19 samples in the country and the institution is looking at ways of partnering with the pharmaceutical industry to introduce new products to the local and regional markets.

However, the institute finds itself in an already shrinking COVID-19 test kits market dominated by cheap imports from Asia and Europe.

Recently, one of the cheapest test kits was introduced by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) early last year and was approved by the World Health Organization for emergency use in March 2021.

The other major testing types include RT-PCR tests, rapid antigen tests and rapid antibody tests.

The UNICEF test is now available for KES 290 (US$2.55) per test while other rapid diagnostic tests for COVID-19 are currently available for KES 454(US$4) but the cost might go higher after importation.

With many countries procuring rapid tests in the millions, the move creates significant savings that will be essential as they respond to the pandemic.

The less budget countries need for diagnostics the more resources they can direct to vaccines or essential medical equipment for hospitals treating COVID-19 patients hence saving more lives.

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