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COVID-19: Kenya’s top scientist fired after delaying results

A top scientist at the Kenya Medical research institute (KEMRI) has been demoted for failing to provide COVID-19 sample results to the health ministry on time.

Dr Lutomiah was the chairman of the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) Rapid Response, which is in charge of laboratories, and would appear on the Ministry of Health committee to give the position of the institute on Covid-19.

This was until 17th April when CS for Health Kagwe instructed Kemri Director-General Prof Yeri Kombe to remove Dr Lutomiah from any leadership position at Kemri immediately.

Before the demotion, Kemri had tested more than 6,000 people under the leadership of Dr Lutomiah

Dr. Joel Lutomia has been asked to resume his role as research scientist at the institute’s centre for virus research, where he was serving as director. He also served as chairman of the KEMRI Rapid Response team.

Kenya’s Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe instructed KEMRI Director-General Yeri Kombe to remove Lutomiah from his position with immediate effect.

A letter to Lutomiah on the delayed submission of COVID-19 results said that “You, therefore, have failed in your duty to honour a matter that is of very serious national importance. I hereby relieve you of your duties as the Director, Centre for Virus with immediate effect.”

The health CS defended his actions by claiming that the dismissal was necessary due to how sensitive the matter is as Kenya’s COVID-19 cases rise gradually.

Ministry of Health Chief Administrative Secretary Rashid Aman told a nationally televised media briefing that “whatever decisions that were made were in line with streamlining and improving the coordination of test results being received in good time.”

Doctor Lutomiah has over 40 years’ experience in entomology, parasitology, pandemic influenza and arbovirology.

Dr Lutomiah’s colleagues say he was shoved aside for questioning the government’s commitment to supporting the financially starved research institute.

“We only received white gumboots from the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency as personal protective gear last month,” one of the researchers told the Sunday Nation.

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“He demanded answers and even threatened to stop the tests if we were not given the protective equipment. This is why he has been removed from the position. He is firm.”

Kemri is yet to receive a single cent from the ministry for the coronavirus fight. As many samples arrive, the institute has to divert resources and money meant for research to continue with the testing.

Health ministry requested the centre to come up with a Covid-19 testing budget proposal; Kemri came up with 10 billion budget which was later negotiated to 7 billion. The money has however not been remitted to the research institute which is the largest in the country and the region.

Kemri has only received 6,000 testing kits from the government and 1,000 from the Clinton Foundation.

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