Kilifi based research centre scales up covid-19 testing at the coast

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KEMRI Wellcome Trust researchers in their laboratory at KEMRI Kilifi County.

Kilifi-based Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) is making testing of coronavirus more available in the coastal region as part of public health response to control the viral disease.

Researchers at the KEMRI Wellcome Trust in Kilifi, have developed an immunological assay- a tool that detects virus footprints or antibodies on patients to track the number of people who been exposed covid-19 in the local population.

Immunological assays are a biochemical test that measures the presence and concentration of a macro-molecule or a small molecule in a solution through the use of an antibody or an antigen.

The move, according to researchers, is part of Kemri’s Covid-19 response aimed at helping in understanding the way the novel virus behaves in various populations.

The researchers are tracking the antibodies through a process called Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay, which according to virologists, is able to detect antibody response on a covid-19 patient who has stayed with the virus for long and the viral load has started to reduce.

According to Prof George Warimwe, a virologist and principal investigator at the institute, the process is able to tell the number of persons in a particular population, who had a previous exposure to the virus by detecting the footprints in their bodies.

“If you go to a place let’s say Kilifi, you can be able to tell how many individuals had previous exposure to the virus. This method picks up exposure history of individuals who are much advanced in the infection cycle. So if you are infected today and I use that assay to work out whether you have been previously exposed, it might not give positive results because the body needs some time to respond and that is why the PCR assay works very well,” said Warimwe.

 The approach, the virologist says is based on the research experience at the 30-year-old Kilifi based research institute which has previously been involved in a variety of other coronaviruses.