Kemri Wellcome Trust given nod to develop antibody tests

Health Chief Administrative Secretary Mercy Mwangangi speaks during a Covid-19 briefing at Afya House. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • The test is expected to give a clearer picture of number of infections in a society compared to the virus test.
  • Covid-19 belongs to a group of other coronaviruses, and sometimes the antibody test may lack specificity, Dr Amoth noted.

The Kemri|Wellcome Trust Research Programme has been given the go-ahead to develop antibody tests for Covid-19.

During the daily press briefing, Health Acting Director-General Patrick Amoth said the research is part of tools and applications needed to handle the disease because it’s here to stay.

The tools and applications, he said, “will be able to make us reach a bigger proportion of the population.”

Whereas the test for the virus will only distinguish those who have it and those who do not, an antibodies test goes further to establish cases of those who could have been infected and show no symptoms or even recovered but could still spread the virus.

The test is expected to give a clearer picture of number of infections in a society compared to the virus test.

The DG said that although the antibody test has its challenges, it’s very critical because it helps know the prevalence of the disease — patients in the population who may have encountered Covid-19 and now are well, but have developed anti-bodies in their immune system.

“The gold standard is the real time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) as recommended by the World Health Organization. But KemriI|Wellcome Trust is a research institution and it will be good for them to go ahead with the development of this antibody tests,” he said.

Health Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) Mercy Mwangangi said the process will undergo rigorous regulatory mechanisms that such a trial needs to proceed.

“MoH is very careful on what tests shall be administered to ensure that they are specific and sensitive in terms of their utility in Kenya,” Dr Mwangangi said, adding, there are about 21 vaccine initiatives across the globe that are being tested.

However, antibodies tend to be produced much later — probably 12 to 14 days after infection — hence, “we lose an opportunity to be able to quarantine people, isolate and stop further transmission,” the DG said.

Covid-19 belongs to a group of other coronaviruses, and sometimes the antibody test may lack specificity, Dr Amoth noted.

“You can have a coronavirus that causes a mild flu, but the antibody testing interprets it like Covid-19, which is a more serious disease,” the DG explained.

He added that those who have chronic illnesses, such as HIV, tuberculosis or severe malnutrition, may not have sufficient immune response, so they may produce little or no detected antibodies.

In that case an antibody test will return a negative result, showing they do not have Covid-19, but only because their immune response is not sufficient, Dr Amoth said.

Kenya is also among the countries that are undertaking the WHO drug trials, said Dr Mwangangi, though it is yet to start any vaccine initiative.

During yesterday’s press briefing, the ministry announced that 72 more people had tested positive for Covid-19, bringing total confirmed cases in Kenya to 1,286. This is after testing 2,711 samples.

Of the new cases, 44 were male while 28 were female aged between 12 and 78 years.

One more person died, bringing the total number of fatalities to 52. Nine more patients recovered, bringing the total recoveries to 392.
Nairobi had the highest number of new cases, while Mombasa had 11 and Kiambu 7.

Lang’ata had 21 cases, Dagoretti North 15, Kamukunji four, Kibra four, Embakasi two and Kasarani three.

Dagoretti South, Makadara and Mathare all had one new case.

In Mombasa the cases were from Nyali (4), Mvita (3), Kisauni (3) and Changamwe (1)," the Ministry said in a statement.

Isiolo County recorded one case, while Turkana became the latest devolved unit to record a case as the virus continues its march across the country.

Turkana's Covid-19 case was recorded at Kakuma. So far 29 counties have now confirmed coronavirus cases.

"The seven cases in Kiambu are from Limuru, Githunguri, Kabete, Ruiru, Thika, and Kikuyu."

Health Acting Director General Patrick Amoth said 34 Kenyan medics had tested positive for Covid-19, but noted that not all contracted the virus at work.

Dr Mwangangi noted that there are now 20 Covid-19 testing labs across Kenya, from two testing facilities when it started. The total number of samples tested so far is 61,971.

She added that isolation facilities are distributed in at least every county and the country has a total bed facility of over 5,000. She said a total of 11,000 healthcare workers and 60,000 community healthcare workers have so far been trained on virus awareness and control.

The government has also received more ventilators from USAID, though the number was not specified. These will be distributed to county health facilities, she said.


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