KEMRI-Wellcome Trust scales up Covid-19 testing at the coast

Kilifi based Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) is making testing coronavirus more available in the coastal region as part of public health response to control the viral disease.

Researchers at the KEMRI Wellcome Trust in Kilifi, have developed an immunological assay- a tool that detects virus footprints or antibodies on patients – to track the number of people who been exposed Covid-19 in the local population.

Immunological assays are a biochemical test that measures the presence and concentration of a macromolecule or a small molecule in a solution through the use of an antibody or an antigen.

The move according to researchers is part of Kemri’s Covid-19 response aimed at helping in understanding the way the novel virus behaves in various populations.

The researchers are tracking the antibodies through a process called Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay, which according to virologists, is able to detect antibody response on a covid-19 patient who has stayed with the virus for long and the viral load has started to reduce.

Dr Sam Muchina Kinyanjui head of training and capacity building said while the virus has upended life across the globe it has only existed for a few months and little is yet known about the coronavirus.

Dr Kinyanjui said most tests for the new strain of coronavirus involve taking a swab sample for analysis noting that developing reliable tests for the virus is essential to slow its further spread.

He said the virus known as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) causes coronavirus disease 19 (Covid-19).

Dr Kinyanjui observed that tests usually involve taking a sample from the back of the throat with a cotton swab and then filed staffs send the samples off for testing under very low temperatures.

He said testing for Covid-19 involves inserting a 6-inch long swab (like a long Q-tip) into the cavity between the nose and mouth (nasopharyngeal swab) for several seconds and rotating it several times.

He said the swabbing is then repeated on the other side of the nose to make sure enough material is collected. The swab is then inserted into a cold container and sent to the labs for testing.

“The samples undergo a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test which detects signs of the virus’s genetic material,” he said.

He said currently researchers are studying how the African population is responding to the disease and to fathom how far Covid-19 might spread and what the ultimate consequences might be.

Head of Bioscience department Dr Isabella Oyier said the institute has been working on basic science research in malaria, arboviruses, HIV, enteric and respiratory viruses and malnutrition studies.

As part of the response to Covid-19, she said the institute is banking on a wealth of experience it has harnessed in undertaking epidemiology programme primarily focusing on arboviruses such as chikungunya, dengue fever and zika viruses.

She said the research centre receives samples for testing from the coastal counties of Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi, Taita Taveta, Lamu and Tana River.

“Currently we have tested 10,000 samples and the figure might look small because we have to do control tests because of the stringent quality assurance process that we have to follow,” she said.

She most people who develop covid-19 has a relatively mild form of the disease which does not require special treatment in dedicated hospitals.

She said KEMRI is GLP (good laboratory practice) accredited facility which is designed to protect scientific data integrity.

The scientists spoke on Sunday when they conducted journalists around the research facility with the visit designed to support them in their coverage of Covid-19.



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