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China-Africa Cooperation in Fighting COVID-19
Kenya-China cooperation in medical technology makes testing for COVID-19 more effective
As the threat of the pandemic continues to increase, more Chinese medical experts in private practice in Kenya have opened up laboratories to help the government ease pressure on testing for COVID-19
By Gitonga Njeru VOL.12 July ·2020-07-16
Passengers wear masks in a bus in Nairobi, Kenya, on June 4 (XINHUA)

John Kilemia, 51, is a lucky man and happy to be COVID-19 free after being tested on a computed tomography (CT) scan. This was made possible by an ongoing partnership between medical experts from Wuhan City in China and Nairobi in Kenya.

"I was quarantined for two weeks in late March [after arriving from Spain], just before the country banned international and domestic flights," said Kilemia.

He was tested for COVID-19 at the CT scan facility in April and was found to be negative. The scan reveals lung infection.

"The scan is almost like an X-ray and the results are instant. Very effective, I must say, and I was home in reasonable time," said Kilemia. The facility, located at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) in Nairobi, opened in late March. According to Mutahi Kagwe, Cabinet Secretary for Health of Kenya, unlike the traditional CT scans found in many hospitals, the facility at KNH uses scanners specifically designed using Chinese technology to detect COVID-19 and is the only one of its kind besides those in Wuhan, China.

Chinese funding

Kagwe said the facility has the capacity to test over 2,000 people per day. So far, less than 400 are being tested on any given day. According to him, this is largely because of the current availability of testing swabs and other testing reagents in the country.

"The facility is the only one of its kind on the continent and it became operational in late March. We will fully utilize the facility to the maximum when our resources become overwhelmed. [However,] we hope it won't reach that level," said Kagwe, noting that the facility is an important gift received from and fully funded by China.

"The average [cost of a scanner] is about $2.5 million," said Kagwe, who recently toured the facility.

He did not say how many CT scan machines have been received, but noted that the facility is able to diagnose a large part of the population.

Kagwe said most people show up for testing on weekends, when over 1,000 are usually tested for COVID-19 on a voluntary basis. He said currently, they have about 80,000 COVID-19 test kits and are testing close to 3,100 people daily across the country.

Kagwe also confirmed that Kenya was manufacturing 3,000 test kits monthly, in an agreement between the Kenya Medical Research Institute and private companies. He confirmed on May 28 that Kenya had tested over 70,172 people since March this year, of which 1,618 people were found positive.

According to the World Health Organization, Kenya had 2,767 positive cases and 84 deaths from COVID-19 as of June 8.

A doctor checks the CT scanning result of a COVID-19 patient in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, on March 17 (XINHUA)

Testing increased

Kagwe said Kenya's testing capacity has increased partially because of the new facility at KNH, as well as the availability of adequate testing kits and contact tracing of those who are positive.

"We hope to test over 250,000 people by end of June. I believe we can. Our capacity is an average of 92,000 per month considering we are testing over 3,000 people per day," he added.

Loice Ombajo, head of infectious diseases at KNH, said the stigma of being infected remains an obstacle to testing.

"Stigma is an issue and hopefully people can change their mindset about COVID-19. Anyone can get the disease and should be welcomed back into their communities once they have fully recovered," said Ombajo.

She said the CT scan machine is highly effective in diagnosing the highly contagious coronavirus - far more than the Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction lab testing.

Ombajo confirmed that only Kenya has the scanner in Africa, adding that it had proved to be hugely effective in China when testing for COVID-19.

KNH Chairman Nickolas Gumbo said that the CT scan facility is connected to 37 countries, making screening of the virus and other infectious diseases much easier. This is made possible through a telemedicine center that has been extended in the facility through Chinese efforts.

"We can [now] fight this disease more effectively. Its good we are becoming [more] prepared each day. The [CT scan] machines are also accurate and reliable," said Gumbo.

The CT scan facility was made available by a China-based company known as Neusoft, a leading global clinical diagnosis and treatment solution provider. In addition to the CT scan machines, in March, it unveiled its artificial intelligence program with KNH in an additional effort to combat the virus. Neusoft was contracted by the Kenyan Government for this project.

New ventures

According to Kenya's private laboratory scientists, there is a need to partner with foreign experts in the fight against the pandemic.

"Working and sharing ideas with foreign experts, especially Chinese professionals as we are seeing currently, is awesome," said John Kiprono, who recently opened his own testing lab called Harunara Laboratory. "As a lab expert, I have traversed the globe attending conferences and I can say that the Chinese keep inventing new technologies and testing techniques. In this era of COVID-19, we all have to think outside the box."

Harunara Laboratory diagnoses and tests for COVID-19, HIV and most other common infectious diseases.

As the threat of the pandemic continues to increase, more Chinese medical experts in private practice in Kenya have opened up laboratories to help the government ease pressure on testing for COVID-19.

While Kenya currently [at the time of writing] had the highest number of COVID-19 infection rates in the East Africa Region, as well as the highest death rates, it also has the highest recovery cases.

With the help of China, Kenya plans to open a factory to assemble the CT scan machines locally in Nairobi.

The government is in discussions with several Chinese companies for such a venture.

"There are such options, but discussions with Chinese manufacturers are still at an early stage," said Betty C. Maina, Cabinet Secretary at the Ministry of Industrialization, Trade and Enterprise Development of Kenya. CA

(Print Edition Title: Hi-Tech Virus Tests)

Reporting from Kenya

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