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UK deal to help Kenya detect new Covid-19 variants

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Kenya’s capacity to detect and pick new Covid-19 variants has received a major boost in a new health partnership with the UK.

This is after the UK government pledged to support Kenya’s genome sequencing capacity through her New Variant Assessment Platform Programme.

Under the arrangement, Kenya will make use of the UK’s unique sequencing and variant assessment capabilities to support local response to Covid-19, strengthening global health security.

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

The SARS-CoV-2 virus has been undergoing mutations, leading to more variants of concern, with the country struggling with the impact of the Delta variant that has seen a surge in cases especially in Western and Nyanza regions.

This calls for constant monitoring to the changes in the virus and assessing any impact that they may have on severity, diagnostics and vaccine efficacy.

The partnership is between Kenya Medical Research Institute and Public Health England.

The new deal builds on the health partnership signed by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Health CS Mutahi Kagwe when he visited in January.

“Our partnership on Covid-19 has already been exceptionally strong, with Kenyan and British scientists collaborating on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, through the 30-year tie-up between Oxford University and Kemri,” Kagwe said.

The contribution and support from the UK on genomic sequencing will assist in the response to the current pandemic and help the country fight future pandemics, he said.

“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 cooperation in the health sector,” Kagwe added.

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.

The partnership has also provided significant support to Kenya through the Global Vaccine Alliance and the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

“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,” British High Commissioner Jane Marriott said.

The UK last year 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 the 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.

“The UK is a science superpower and it is right that we share our expertise in the global fight against Covid-19. I welcome this partnership with Kenya, to identify, track and respond to new Covid-19 variants and future health threats,” Raab said.

Edited by Henry Makori



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