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Kenya to receive UK support on Genomic Sequencing to fight COVID-19

Kenya will benefit from a platform to identify new Covid-19 variants, as part of tie-up between KEMRI and Public Health England (PHE).

The Platform aims to support countries effectively identify, assess and track new SARS-CoV-2 variants, among their population, to fight Covid-19 and future pandemics.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus, has the capacity to change and evolve, therefore, it is important to monitor changes in the virus and assess any impact that they may have on severity, diagnostics and vaccine efficacy.

Kenya will receive genomic sequencing support through the UK’s New Variant Assessment Platform Programme (NVAP), as part of Kenya-UK Health Partnership.

Genome Sequencing Process, is a laboratory procedure that determines the order of an organism in one process and provides a very precise DNA fingerprint that can help link cases to one another allowing an outbreak to be detected and solved sooner.

In a press release, today, Cabinet Secretary (CS) for Health, Mutahi Kagwe, said that the support from UK will assist in the response to the current pandemic and will help the country to also fight future pandemics together.

“Through KEMRI and Oxford University, we have a 30-year health partnership, which continues to grow from strength to strength, as we continuously expand our scope of co-operation in the health sector,” he said

The CS noted that the Platform, will allow the UK’s unique sequencing and variant assessment capabilities, to support Kenya’s response to Covid-19, thus strengthening global health security.

The support includes reagents and equipment to increase in-country sequencing, technical advice, bioinformatics support and training.

British High Commissioner to Kenya, Jane Marriott, said the health partnership with Kenya is over 30 years old and that through the Covid-19 pandemic, the relationship has been incredibly strong.

“Kenyan and British scientists at KEMRI and Oxford University, were closely involved in the development of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Now we will share our expertise to work together in identifying, tracking and responding to new variants with Kenya, saving lives here and around the world. -No-one is safe until everyone is safe,” Marriott said.

The partnership builds on the Health Partnership signed by Foreign Secretary, Commonwealth and Development Office, Dominic Raab and Cabinet Secretary (CS) for Health, Mutahi Kagwe, during the former’s visit this January.

Through the Health Partnership, the UK has long supported Kenya in providing supplies and supporting health systems in areas of family planning, nutrition, maternal and new-born health.

“We have also provided significant support to Kenya through the Global Vaccine Alliance (GAVI) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM) and plans are also in development for the UK to assist in the establishment of two regional hubs, one for the African Centre for Disease Control in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and one in Singapore,” Raab noted.

A Technical Advisor will be deployed to Ethiopia to provide expertise and guidance on genomic sequencing strategy and policy as they begin to establish a hub to coordinate and undertake genomic sequencing across the continent.

Last year, the UK announced funding of Sh177 million to support a series of studies that will help monitor, understand and inform the Covid-19 response in Kenya.

The initiative, led by KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme, together with the Ministry of Health, will enable scientists in Kenya measure Covid-19 antibody prevalence among blood donors, attendees at ante-natal care clinics and among healthcare workers.

By Wangari Ndirangu

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