The Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) has urged Parliament to protect locally manufactured medical products from imports.
Speaking during the launch of its products, research scientist Lucy Muita said Kenya should not be importing goods that it produces.
Scientists worked hard to develop products for fighting Covid-19 when the whole world was in lockdown, she said.
“When Covid-19 (hit), it dawned on us that over the years we have been relying on imported products. There was a complete lockdown for two weeks and we could not import anything and we were working all round to ensure we get products like the (viral transport medium),” she said.
A viral transport medium (VTM) is a solution used to preserve virus specimens after they have been collected so that they can be transported and analysed in a lab later.
Kemri is conducting flagship research projects for Covid-19 responses. They include VTM, sample testing and screening for the respiratory disease, whole genome sequencing for the virus, and point-of-care-testing (PoCT) kits.
PoCT kits allow small samples of blood, such as those taken from a finger to be tested where the patient is, such as at home or at the doctor’s office. They allow for faster testing than when samples are shipped to a central lab.
Kemri has also developed a hand sanitiser it calls KEM-Rub.
It is also conducting Covid-19 vaccine trials and testing Covid-19 drug efficacy.
Prof Simon Kariuki, Kemri’s acting managing director, urged lawmakers to support the institute more so it can achieve its mandate.
“The parliamentary Committee on Health has continued to support us particularly when it comes to lobbying for funding for research and they have been in the forefront and I know they will continue to support Kemri because it is a national institution that supports the Ministry of Health and the region,” he said.
Kemri unveiled VTM, masks and sanitisers, among other medical products being developed at its Kilifi centre.
Prof Kariuki said Kemri initially imported VTM solutions but that became impossible because countries started hoarding their stocks as the pandemic spread. So they had to start making their own, and now they are exporting it to countries in the region.
KEM-Rub, the sanitizer, was also relaunched after the institute was advised by customers to drop the original blue color.
Prof Kariuki said Kemri receives samples from Somalia, Mauritius, Madagascar, Burundi, and South Sudan.
The institute is also the regional quality control centre for malaria.
“Our malaria panels are supporting countries in the region to be able to develop a quality control system for testing of malaria,” he added.