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Mass testing the key solution in curbing the Covid-19 pandemic in Kenya

Kakamega

By Prof. John Muoma

The Covid 19 pandemic is here with us and from Statistic model, new cases are still in 10’s as the numbers are increasing.

This is a crucial moment and the basic rules of keeping our hands clean and limited movement can slow down or limit the spread of the virus.

Statistical model by one Professor in MMUST show that the numbers are not relenting and are increasing in every second.

With 158 cases recorded in Kenya and four deaths reported, Professor Sibakhale Makhanu, using the Statistical Quadratic model makes predictions which perfectly supports the number of cases reported by the Government of Kenya with a reasonable margin of error.

Hence, for planning purposes, the model clearly informs the government of where we are and where we are heading to with this scourge. This is very important data at this time of war as the President put it.

Prof. John Muoma

Considering that the cases are on the higher side of the prediction, the numbers are telling us that we are not properly adhering to the guidelines put in place to contain this pandemic. Most important though, the model is very important and it should put the government at vantage position and enable the relevant authorities plan ahead.

This raises the question how? Just like the importance of census for budgeting and management of the country, the number of cases infected with Covid 19 is very important for the same purpose as it enables the government to know the number of cases they will be dealing with.  Hence based on this prediction model, the government should be able to know how many cases they will be dealing with in March, April and so on up to December.

Prof. John Muoma

To do this, they need enough kits to test all and sundry abinitial so as to know the number of cases they are dealing with in future.

This is a humongous task, which can only be done by getting enough kits for testing, work with scientist to develop homegrown cheap testing solutions as they plan to set up laboratories and buy equipment for high throughput testing.

Thinking out of the box government needs a radical approach, which may require a national wide testing of everyone and with homegrown testing approaches; this can be done with all scientists involved.

As of the current status of Covid 19 and learning from what has happened in the US, where they are currently losing up to 1300 people in a day, according to Washington Post of February 25, this year, experts had clearly stated that “if testing was not limited to people showing respiratory infection the situation can be better managed’ an idea which must be put to practice in Kenya.

 Other unfortunate mishap, which happened the same time, was where faulty kits were distributed to 12 laboratories, which were then incapable of testing Covid 19.

The Washington Post editor further notes, that by the time South Korea had tested 35,000 people, the US had only tested 426 symptomatic cases and so did not have a clear position of the number of cases in the US.

This has though changed though late and the US government is currently heavily investing in mass testing and involving molecular biologist in other research areas who are not certified laboratory technician.

The non-certified molecular biologist are involved in the initial and middle stage processing the samples with the Certified technician processing the end stage before the results are released to the patient.

With emphasis on the importance of testing the US scientist at UC Berkley Innovative genomic institute, university of California have set up robotic laboratory capable of processing 1000 samples per day.

This laboratory fully automated has been a public private initiative in response to Covid 19 by scientist and a robotics company in the US.

Following suit on the importance of testing, Group 42 (G42), the leading technology company based in Abu Dhabi, and global genomics leader BGI announced on 31st march 2020 the launch of a new massive-throughput laboratory built to address the need for population-scale detection and diagnosis of COVID-19 in the United Arab Emirates.

 The lab is capable of conducting tens of thousands RT-PCR tests per day and is the first in the world of this scale to be operational outside of China. The lab showcases the joint commitment of G42 and BGI to the leadership and people of the UAE, working with the nation to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kenya is at a crucial stage and to manage the Covid 19 better, we need to first and far most open up testing centers country wide for mass testing of all Kenyans. Equip the Centers with consumables and reagents required for testing.

The Covid 19 test equipment are basic standard equipment, which can be assembled from any basic molecular Biology laboratory and may not need any financial input from the government. 

Marshal all molecular biologists and involve them with certified laboratory experts to process samples before release of results to the patient.  

As they do this the government just the UAE government which put up a diagnostic laboratory in 14 days should now invest the Covid 19 funds not only in buying sanitizers, soap and masks but proceed and buy high technology equipment which can enable us process hundreds of thousands of samples immediately.

This will be the first major step towards non-reactionary management of Covid 19. We will find our self at an advantageous position considering out current situation, as we will better handle the cases before it gets to a dire state.

Let the government both national and county take vantage of our current low cases and embark on mass testing we may not need admission of most of the cases as some may be managed at an early stage. The pandemic is here with us let us listen to everyone who is ready to help.

Prof. Muoma is a Professor of Plant Biotechnology and the current Director of Science Park, Innovation and Incubation Centre (SPIIC) at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (Mmust).

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