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The Departmental Committee on Health in the National Assembly has recommended that the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) be allocated Ksh 50 billion annually so as to boost the research institution’s capacity to conduct scientific research in the Country.

The Committee in a session led by the Hon. Martin Peters,MP, Ndhiwa Constituency arrived at this recommendation after making an inspection tour to KEMRI- Kilifi. The Members noted that KEMRI is a crucial government institution but which has for years been underfunded creating an over reliance on donor funding.

Speaking during the visit to the premier health research facility, Hon.Owino noted that the facility had been allocated Ksh 2.27 billion in the financial year 2020/2021, but had its allocation increased to Ksh 2.9 billion in the next financial year.

Hon Owino noted that KEMRI had played a crucial role during this period when the country is ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic and lauded the institution’s efforts to mitigate against the disease through the production of sanitizers and masks, products which were previously imported into the country.

The Members also observed that according to a recent report, KEMRI had been ranked number eight in Africa. The Committee underscored the institution’s potential to do more adding that the Committee would push for additional funding.

Hon. Eseli Simiyu making remarks during the parliamentary health committee visit to KEMRI-Kilifi. On his right is Hon. Peters Owino, Acting. Chair.

Currently, the legislators noted, there are only 200 researchers for every one million people as compared to the situation in the developed world where there are 5000 researchers for every one million people.

The Committee was welcomed into the facility by the Chairman Board of Directors, Dr. Daniel Mbinda and Ag. Director General, Prof. Joseph Mwangangi.

The Committee was also impressed by the leadership and enthusiasm demonstrated by the KEMRI team to expand and upgrade it’s laboratories and administrative facilities to keep up with the new International standards in terms of technology and standards. KEMRI has a total of 77 Research laboratories out of which only 30 that are accredited while 47 require upgrading to International standards in order to provide quality data and to enhance biosecurity levels.

The Committee was further informed that the facility has plans to construct a research administration block which will enhance its capacity to coordinate research, centralise research data management and maintain robust knowledge management systems. There are also plans to build strategic laboratories at the security border points at Lunga Lunga, Mandera, Kwale, Wajir, Lamu, Busia, and Turkana to curb among others, animal diseases.

The Committee however lamented that throughout the pandemic, African countries have been at the back of the queue in getting adequate test kits and consumables; personal protective equipment and, now, vaccines.

Nonetheless, the Members noted, this crisis has also presented an excellent opportunity for the government to support research capacity. They warned that the danger that the COVID-19 pandemic poses to the Country – and the ongoing vaccine nationalism – is a timely wake-up call. They recounted that the pandemic has been a brutal reminder of the government’s need to muscle up its support for research capacity, especially for infectious diseases and vaccine research.

Dr. Isabella Ochola briefing members of parliament when the health committee was conducted on a tour of KEMRI-Kilifi laboratories

On their part, the management of KEMRI registered their appreciation to the Committee on Health for the recent allocation of Kshs. 151 million which has been ring-fenced for the manufacture of various medical products. Kenya’s overreliance on international funding through collaborative agreements and which comes with donor conditions makes it untenable to meet the required disease control goal. The Committee urged the government to priorities research as a pillar of development and national security

The Members however challenged the management at KEMRI to carry out more public engagement and to publicize their work.

You must rise and use your media team to publicize the great work you are doing so that Kenyans can own you like Safaricom

Dr. Eseli Simiyu, Committee Member

Further, Lamu Woman Representative, Hon. Ruweida Obo has said that legislators will advocate for the government to increase funding for research at KEMRI. She noted there is need for the institution to establish branches in disease prone counties such as Lamu which is currently undertaking mega projects under the Lapsset. The project is expected to attract a mass movement of people from all over the globe, making it a disease prone zone.

Courtesy: Parliament of Kenya

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