- The Kemri-Jica collaboration in health research development has been in several forms—technical cooperation, capacity building and grant aid.
- Without a doubt, the collaboration between researchers from Japan and Kenya has fostered a strong bond of friendship.
The year 2023 marks the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Kenya. There are many stories of friendship and cooperation during the long history of our bilateral ties.
One concerns Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri), the medical research arm of the Kenyan government, and our cooperation in the health sector. On October 30, I will present the Ambassador’s Commendation to Kemri for its outstanding contribution to improving the health of the Kenyan people while promoting friendship and cooperation between Japan and Kenya.
Japan’s involvement with Kemri started from its inception back in 1979. Since then, Japan has continued cooperation with Kemri for more than four decades. The Kemri-Jica collaboration in health research development has been in several forms—technical cooperation, capacity building and grant aid.
Our support for construction of laboratories, supply of medical equipment and provision of specialised training, amounting to about 7 billion yen (or roughly Sh7 billion) has helped in developing the institution as one of the leading health research centres in Africa.
The establishment of the necessary infrastructural facilities was followed by an aggressive investment into the critical human resource mass that would drive the premier institution.
Kemri’s research has since contributed to reducing the incidence of infectious diseases such as diarrhoea, hepatitis and HIV-Aids, and parasitic diseases such as malaria, schistosomiasis (also known as bilharzia) and jigger infestations.
The institution is the first to respond whenever there is disease outbreak as was demonstrated during the Covid-19 pandemic through viral analysis and surveillance. Our cooperation focused on fostering new leaders for control of infectious diseases.
We provided opportunities for training of Kemri research scientists in Japan through PhD and master’s degree programmes as well as short courses. The first biosafety level 3 facility (P3 laboratory) in the country was set up at Kemri in 1997. It contributed immensely to the development of Hepatitis and HIV-1 test kits made in Kenya.
In terms of training, Kemri has played a leading role in capacity building for institutions in the region involved in research and control of infectious diseases. In 2001, Kemri established the Eastern and Southern Africa Centre of International Parasite Control, a regional centre for capacity building on infectious and parasite control under the “Hashimoto Initiative” that was declared by Japanese Prime Minister Hashimoto during the G8 Summit 1998.
In the 2000s, Kemri with funding from Japan launched the first Third Country Training Programme (TCTP) on blood safety (2001-2005) and later the TCTP on school-based parasite control (2004-2008). Currently, KEMRI is implementing the TCTP for strengthening laboratory capacity to build resilience against public health emergencies in the Eastern Africa region.
Another success story of Kemri-Jica collaboration is the Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development (SATREPS) Project between 2012 and 2017. The project, with 361 million yen (or Sh361 million) budget, aimed at developing rapid diagnostic tests and establishing an alert system for outbreaks of zoonotic diseases such as yellow fever and Rift Valley fever.
The rapid diagnostic tests for the two diseases have been developed in collaboration between Japanese and Kenyan researchers. Advanced, rapid and accurate reference system is in place and functional today in Kemri headquarters and Kemri-Alupe in Busia county.
Japan’s involvement in Kemri is not restricted to the government level. Nagasaki University Institute of Tropical Medicine dispatched a professor for the Kemri’s early days in 1979 as a Jica team leader. Since then, Nagasaki University established an office within Kemri premises where its researchers undertake various research activities.
In addition, Nagasaki University continues to accept a PhD student from Kemri every year. Kemri’s outstanding researchers who obtained their PhDs at Nagasaki University, are now carrying out cutting-edge biomedical research in Kenya and driving its development.
Without a doubt, the collaboration between researchers from Japan and Kenya has fostered a strong bond of friendship. Many Kemri researchers who studied in Japan are great fans of Japan and maintain their personal links. Young Japanese students who have participated in fieldwork have a special affection for Kenya.
By promoting better health of its people, Kemri’s activities contribute to economic growth in Kenya and Africa. It is my sincere wish that our cooperation will continue for many years to come.