Kenya: Virus Testing Machine Underutilised Due to Lack of Reagents

A viral-load testing machine remains underutilised at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) in Kisumu due to lack of reagents and underfunding.

The Cobas 8800 machine, whose cost is estimated at millions of shillings, has been in use since 2016.

It is mainly used to test Human Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV) viral load, and lately Covid-19.

According to health experts, the machine can also test viral loads of other diseases, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Hepatitis B and C as well as Zika virus.

"Cobas 8800 machine is a complex instrument. However, it has not been fully utilised in our labs due to lack of reagents, which are needed when carrying out tests, yet it costs a lot," said Mr Tobias Oloo, the lab supervisor at Kemri's molecular unit.

Mr Oloo said the institution had only been provided with reagents for testing HIV and Covid-19 viruses.

"Had other reagents been available, we would be using the machine to test viral loads of other diseases," said the lab supervisor.

"We often test 3,000 blood samples a day and 25,000 samples per month, which is way below expectations," said Mr Oloo.

Experts confirmed that compared to other viral-load testing machines, Cobas 8800 has a larger capacity and requires limited manpower.

It can test up to 4,000 blood samples per day. However, according to Mr Oloo, the number at times drops to 2,500.

The machine, which operates at high electric voltages, can operate day and night and does its own cleaning automatically.

Mr Oloo added it has little to no error margin.

Kemri-Kisumu was the first institution to be equipped with the machine in Kenya.

It was imported from Switzerland by the National Aids Control and STIs Control Programme (NASCOP) in 2016 to help handle the high HIV prevalence in the lakeside county.

The machine is currently used to carry out viral tests in Siaya and Homa Bay counties, which bear a huge HIV burden.

According to Mr Oloo, the machine has now been installed in eight other Kemri labs that perform molecular tests across the country.

Viral load tests help determine patients' response to treatment.

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