By Victor Bwire
The government, jointly with development partners, is investing in enhancing public health through strengthening good biosafety, laboratory, biosecurity and bio-containment practices. This follows the realisation that failure to follow biosafety and laboratory biosecurity practice triggers reappearance of life-threatening viruses such as Chikungunya, Multi-Drug Resistance TB (MDR/XDR TB), Rift Valley fever, Ebola, SARS among others.
In the past one and a half years, Kenya has been able to carry out infrastructural and human resources for health capacity building programmes in Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), the Central Veterinary Laboratories and the Kenya Veterinary Vaccine Production Institute (KEVEVAPI). Renovation and expansion of laboratory capacities will soon begin in Kajiado and Isiolo County Hospitals. KEMRI is designated as the repository for all human and zoonotic disease agents. Already, a number of KEMRI staff have been trained on biorisks using the global biorisk curriculum.
Trainings have also been held on Pathogen Asset Control System (PACS) system for sample management and move captains’ biorisk and phasing where more than 50 personnel have been trained. Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki notes that there is urgent need to strengthen Kenya’s national systems on biosafety and biosecurity including establishing strict biosafety and laboratory biosecurity principles and practices when handling and storing pathogenic microorganisms. “Despite the urgent need for investments in biosafety and biosecurity, many countries are unequipped and unprepared to effectively address these complex issues.
The vulnerabilities of these countries contribute to the vulnerabilities of the global community at large. I would like to emphasise that we have seen how natural outbreaks of disease could pose significant challenges to global security by undermining national economies, international trade and travel, public health and the trust of a populace in government, potentially leading to ineffective governance or fragile state collapse,” the CS said.
She added that responsible laboratory practices, including protection, control and accountability for valuable biological materials will help prevent their unauthorized access, loss, theft, misuse, diversion or intentional release, and contribute to preserving scientifically important work for future generations. She made the remarks while launching the KEMRI based Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA)/Cooperative Biological Engagement Program (CBEP) Collaborative Project under an agreement signed between the United States government and the Kenya government concerning Cooperation in Threat Reduction Biological Engagement Programs.
The Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government, is implementing the Agreement. From the American side, the implementation is under the State Department of Defence through the Department of Threat Reduction Agency. This collaborative project involves construction of a Sample Management and Receiving Facility (SMRF) building, construction of a two-storey office connector building; Construction of two, two-story multi-purpose conference rooms. It also involves the purchase, installation, and commissioning of two new biomedical waste incinerators; installation of three new insectaries; renovations of selected laboratory and office spaces.
In addition, the project will provide training and capacity building of KEMRI personnel in line with biosafety and biosecurity and provision of Pathogen Asset Control System (PACS) and capacity building to operate and utilise the system for sample management. DTRA/CBEP prevents biological and chemical weapons proliferation and their means of delivery through the establishment of appropriate related materials controls and the promotion of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Health Regulations (IHR) with the overall goal of enhancing national, regional and global public health security.
This mandate includes the isolation, handling, storage and discarding of proliferative dangerous pathogens (biological) and the handling of dangerous chemicals used in research affecting human life. KEMRI Board Chair Dr. Naftali Agata noted that for KEMRI to conduct human health research, it must invest in long-term storage of the biological agents for future research because Good laboratory and Clinical practices (GCLP) are fundamental in the ethical conduct of medical research including biosafety and biosecurity practices.