By Gift Briton

The Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) has launched two new products- Plasmochek and KEMCOV-19- that will revolutionize COVID-19 and Malaria testing.

Malaria is an endemic disease in sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya, where the country’s Centre for disease control and prevention (CDC) estimates that the mortality due to the disease is at 10,700 people yearly.

Malaria kits

With Kenya listed among the African Union member states that failed to attain the less than 40% malaria mortality rate target, Plasmochek will play a critical role improving malaria diagnostics and detection in the country.

Before this innovation, Kenya would import malaria rapid test kits from other countries including China and India.

In an interview during the launch of the kit at the 12th KEMRI’s Annual Scientific and Health (KASH) conference, Dr. Damaris Matoke, Deputy Director for Biotechnology research  KEMRI, said that for the country to recover from the economic strains especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, it has to  think of areas that will reduce the cost of expenditure and among them is coming up with its  own  locally produced malaria test kits.

Plasmochek is designed to detect plasmodium, malaria causing pathogens. The kit utilizes antibodies specific to Plasmodium Falciparum Histidine rich protein II and Plasmodium Lactate Dehydrogenase to simultaneously to detect malaria infections

Dr. Matoke noted that one of the key challenge in the fight against zero malaria is the challenge of diagnosing malaria effectively.

“Most people tend to treat symptoms assuming it’s malaria  in which  they end up using antimalarial drugs every time they fall sick  and in the long run they  become resistant to these antimalarial drugs,” she added.

Dr. Damaris Matoke during the launch

According to Dr. Matoke the Plasmochek intends to solve this diagnosis problem by reducing the turn around time for diagnosis.

“The impact of turn around time on malaria is very high because the longer you keep people waiting for their results, the higher the chances they are going to self-diagnose. Self diagnosis will lead to drug resistance and this will make the mortality rate very high,” she said.

Furthermore, with Plasmochek being cheaper than what is currently available in the market, more people will be willing and able to do a quick test to ascertain whether it is malaria or not thereby eliminating them from taking antimarial drugs without diagnosis.

Unlike the kits currently used in hospitals, Plasmochek will be sold at KSH. 60 each, five times cheaper than what is currently available in the market.

According to Dr. Matoke, the kit does not need any special facility storage since it is currently available at room temperature. In addition, it does not require any skilled labour to operate and anyone can use it anywhere.

Since the government will be its largest consumer, KEMRI intends to collaborate with the Ministry of Health to distribute the kits throughout the 47 counties in Kenya.

The institution has welcome both the private and public sectors to purchase the kits for market consumption in which 30, 000 kits have been produced waiting distribution.

Dr. Cecilia Wanjala during the launch

COVID-19

The KEMCoV-19 kit is used for screening of COVID-19 after doing a nausal or oral swab. The kit has been found to be 100% sensitive and specific, meaning that it can detect a true negative and positive, Dr. Matoke said.

The kit uses Reverse Transcription of the viral RNA into DNA which is then amplified through Real Time PCR.

Dr. Cecilia Wanjala, Commercial Manager at KEMRI said through the test kits, KEMRI aspires to save the country an excess of kshs. 58 million (about USD 0.5 million) on malaria testing and kshs. 405 million (about USD 4 million) on COVID-19 testing.

She noted that the kits are going to increase prompt diagnosis of COVID-19 and malaria thus contributing to achieving universal health coverage.

-Additional reporting by Marlene Angir.

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