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Economy

Kenya hurt as US bans exports of Covid-19 testing kits

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe told Parliament last week that the country is staring at a crisis after the US, where Kenya sources reagents to test Covid-19, stopped exportation of the chemical.
Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe told Parliament last week that the country is staring at a crisis after the US, where Kenya sources reagents to test Covid-19, stopped exportation of the chemical. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The United States government’s suspension of sale of reagents to test the coronavirus is derailing Kenya’s fight against the pandemic.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe told Parliament last week that the country is staring at a crisis after the US, where Kenya sources reagents to test Covid-19, stopped exportation of the chemical.

“As we speak, we have a crisis because we don’t have reagents. The US government suspended exportation of reagents,” Mr Kagwe told the National Assembly’s Health committee that is investigating procurement irregularities at Kemsa.

He said the stoppage has forced Kenya to scale down testing for Covid-19.

Reagents are substances used for chemical analyses of the samples extracted from nasal swabs.

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Kenyans prefere government facilities for their free testing. Private labs charge between Sh8,700 to Sh10,000.

“It is true that we have scaled down testing. This is as a result of fact that we run two systems-manual system and automatic Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) system,” he said in response to MPs queries.

Mr Kagwe said Kenya’s automatic testing kits source reagents from the US.

Kenya is trailing countries like South Africa on testing with about 474, 477 tests that had recorded 35, 103 positive cases.

South Africa, Africa’s biggest economy, has nearly 3.76 million tests and recorded more 635,078 positive cases.

Testing is one of the biggest challenges facing the country amidst low coronavirus caseload recorded in Kenya in the recent past.

The lack of testing kits will hold Kenya back from ramping up diagnostic testing to better understand where the coronavirus is spreading and how to stop outbreaks.

“This is a problem that cuts across the world and not confined to Kenya alone. The automatic testing kits that we have get reagents from the US. But the US government has placed an embargo on exportation of any reagents for Roche and Abbott machines,” Mr Kagwe said.

Mr Kagwe said the shortage of laboratory-based molecular testing capacity and reagents has forced the country to revert to manual testing which takes longer to get results.

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