Kenya: How UON-Based Centre Helps Government Manage Covid-19

Measures adopted to fight Covid-19 are not based on fabricated data but on an ongoing analysis of cases reported by the Ministry of Health and sent to a modelling centre at the University of Nairobi (UoN).

The UoN-based Centre for Epidemiological and Analysis (CEMA) brings together a range of experts, including data analysts, statisticians, physicians, epidemiologists, and infectious-disease specialists.

For 14 months now, it has used data to advise the government on key decisions regarding the pandemic.

The experts have been analysing the Covid-19 situation in Kenya by examining positive cases, the testing rate, the positivity rate and the availability of hospital beds against available health personnel.The findings are then used to inform the government's policy decisions on how to manage the disease.

Despite all these scientific efforts, Kenyans still grumble when a lockdown is imposed or when numbers soar.

Speaking at the official launch of CEMA yesterday, acting health Director-General Dr Patrick Amoth acknowledged that the centre's team has helped save thousands of lives by crafting interventions that apply to Kenyan citizens.

"In the earlier days of the pandemic, we had been relying on data from different parts of the world like China, but when this team started working on data almost immediately, we were able to act based on their analysis," Dr Amoth said.

"We will stick with science until we win against the pandemic," he added.

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha, who was also at the launch, lauded the initiative for having a local team as analysts of local data especially in a public health emergency that needs rapid response.

"Genuine data is power and knowledge. Managing a public health emergency of such proportions calls for a lot of sobriety in making rapid and meaningful decisions," Prof Magoha said.

"We must employ a multidisciplinary approach in tackling the pandemic using relevant data to make effective decisions. Such decisions must be supported by locally relevant data."

Prof Thumbi Mwangi, CEMA's director, told Nation.Africa yesterday that though some Kenyans have died from Covid-19, the centre's prediction model has helped to contain the disease.

"In March last year, we predicted that by April, there would be about 1,000 positive cases of Covid-19 but that did not happen. This is because the government intervened and enforced public health measures that reduced transmission of the disease," he said.

Dr Loice Ombajo, an infectious-disease specialist who is in charge of CEMA's clinical research advisory group, told the Nation that the patterns from the data analysed at the centre are used to extract important information about Covid-19.

"There's a lot that data can tell. We do not just focus on the positive cases but also the negative ones. We also look at the clinical data of patients such as those that have symptoms and those without, those with pre-existing conditions, and the very severe cases," she said.

"That helps in planning at the hospitals to know which areas need more Intensive Care Unit beds, oxygen supply and more workforce."

Addressing the issue of late reports from the Health ministry, she said deaths linked to Covid-19 are only reported after a positive test has been confirmed.

"A patient may be brought to hospital and their samples taken but they die before the results come out. Such cases may lead to late reports since some facilities have to wait for the results before outrightly linking the death of a patient to Covid-19," she explained.

Dr Shikoh Gitau, chief executive at Qhala, a digital innovation hub, said the launch of CEMA marks the beginning of a promising symbiotic relationship in efforts to democratise data in Kenya.

"CEMA is changing the way the government makes data accessible. The availability of aggregated and centralised open-access data sets, summarised in dashboard maps, tables and charts is an exciting new venture in democracy," she said.

"Both the government and the public can now deeply investigate outbreaks or demographic data that will influence the most precise decision-making."

Going forward, the centre will not only be used for Covid-19-related disease management but also for other public health concerns such as outbreaks and epidemics so as to help in controlling infectious diseases.

Other areas of research include understanding infectious diseases and monitoring antimicrobial resistance research and improving surveillance and response to public health events by keenly studying health data.

The centre will also be used to train health workers and postgraduate fellows through short courses that will enhance a better understanding of how to translate data insights into policies that improve public health.

UoN Vice-Chancellor Prof Kiama Gitahi welcomed the idea of having such a centre, saying it will be a national resource that will boost Kenya's capacity to tackle some of the greatest societal and public health challenges of our time.

"The impact of this initiative has been that advisories on the best course of action and responses to the pandemic have been informed by data. From well-thought analysis, and not guesswork or simplistic mental models deficient of data insights," he said.

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