Ministry bought unverified Sh365m Covid-19 testing kits

The Health ministry procured unverified Covid-19 testing kits worth Sh365 million in a shocking move that puts thousands of lives at risk.

There are fears most of these kits may yield false results, dealing a blow to the fight against the pandemic even as the government claims it is flattening the curve.

In a letter seen by the Nation to suspended Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) CEO Jonah Manjari, Health Principal Secretary Susan Mochache directed the acquisition of 3,750 kits at Sh97,584 each.

They were not validated by the Kenya Medical Laboratory Technicians and Technologists Board (KMLTTB), which is licensed to verify all kits bought using World Bank funds.

Validation of the kits, which is listed as one of the KMLTTB core functions, is not a quick process. It requires the institution to check against a few dozen known positive and negative cases.

Then they must conduct field trials of hundreds or even thousands of people to determine the tests’ accuracy.

In the letter dated May 11, Ms Mochache, who heads the Covid-19 Task Force, said the kits were accompanied by an assortment of consumables and were required immediately.

“The purpose of this letter is to authorise you to expeditiously undertake the procurement and supply the kits as you will be guided at a later time,” said Ms Mochache.

It is, however, curious that the PS ordered the procurement of rapid testing kits that cannot be used in other diagnostic platforms besides the Abbott machines, which are unavailable in most of the Covid-19 labs.

Direct procurement

“Taking cognisance of the fact that the testing kits and the consumables are for very specific equipment and platform and therefore fall under the category of a closed system of supply, you are further authorised to use the direct procurement method,” she stated.

The closed system gives undue advantage to the suppliers as they can charge whatever they want per kit, compared to the open one.

The government has suffered several setbacks in its attempts to procure or develop reliable testing kits, which are widely believed to be the only chance of easing restrictions as scientists battle to develop a vaccine.

Even as the ministry headed by CS Mutahi Kagwe expresses concerns over the sale of unverified kits in the market, investigations by the Nation have established that the problem is still at Afya House, which has two competing boards validating the items.


KMLTTB is in a tussle with the Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PBB) over the kit verification process. The PBB was established to regulate the practice of pharmacy and the manufacture and trade in drugs and poisons.

The Nation has established that various companies that sell the rapid testing kits have been given the greenlight by the PBB.

The revelation of the Abbott kits comes at a time when Kemsa admitted in the Senate that they exclusively procured Covid-related supplies from select firms at pre-set prices on the directive of the ministry.

She is expected to appear before the Senate this week to respond to the allegations.

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