A top Kenyan scientist at the forefront of the country’s novel coronavirus fight has been fired for failing to release COVID-19 test results on time. Dr. Joel Lutomiah, chairman Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) Rapid Response, the organization in charge of laboratories was dismissed Friday.
Kemri tested more than 6,000 Kenyans since the first case of the deadly diseases was recorded in mid-march under the stewardship of Dr, Lutomiah.
Kenya has so far recorded 363 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus with 14 deaths and 114 recoveries.
The Health Cabinet Secretary accused Dr. Lutomiah of failing to provide COVID-19 data in time for his daily briefing, Daily Nation states citing confidential dismissal letter it sighted.
“This is further to our meeting with the Cabinet secretary this afternoon on the matter relating to your conduct. You, this morning, delayed the release of COVID-19 laboratory results of the previous evening contrary to an earlier agreement with the Ministry of Health that you release them before 8 am. You, therefore, have failed in your duty to honour a matter that is of national importance,” Kagwe said in the letter addressed to the Director-General of Kemri.
“I hereby relieve you of your duties as the Director, Centre for Virus with immediate effect. You will hand over to Dr. Samson Konongoi, who will act until a substantive holder is appointed. Meanwhile, revert to your previous position as a research scientist,” he added.
Dr. Lutomiah’s dismissal did not go down well with Kenyans on social media. They condemned the decision taken by the Health Cabinet Secretary as irrational.
The Mt. Kenya Times reports that the dismissal was the first trending item on Twitter in Kenya on Sunday, April 26. The outlet quoted a Member of Parliament William Chepkut slamming Kagwe. “He’d rather have those test results cooked than delayed. One day he will be held out rightly responsible,” it quoted the legislator as saying.
SAD to read in the Sunday Nation that Kenya’s premier medical research institute, KEMRI has only received gumboots, yes GUMBOOTS, from GoK & MoH, & of the Billions allocated to fight Wuhan Virus (COVID-19), ZERO Shillings allocation. Then its lead Director Joel Lutomiah is fired.— Donald B Kipkorir (@DonaldBKipkorir) April 26, 2020
Meanwhile, a source at the Ministry of Health told Daily Nation Dr. Lutomiah was not dismissed, but resigned “because of the sensitivity of the pandemic”.
“This was not a dismissal. The director-general was directed by the big man to remove him from that position … because of the problems we had with receiving results,” the official is quoted as saying.
My concerns are with the researchers at @KEMRI_Kenya and other institutions. They have years of training, acquired specialised knowledge and skills which cannot be easily replaced. The @MOH_Kenya should be slow to anger and slow to judge. The CEO should protect his professionals. pic.twitter.com/7C3Dqo9pqa— Prof. Davy K. Koech | PhD, DSc, MBS, OGW, SS (@DavyKoech) April 26, 2020
Dr. Lutomiah’s former colleagues dispute the claims of the Health Cabinet Secretary. According to them, the test results were not late, rather he was dismissed for demanding that the scientists handling the samples are given more protective gear.
“We only received white gumboots from the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency as personal protective gear last month,” Daily Nation quoted one researcher. “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.”
“The results were not late,” another researcher said. “He (The Cabinet secretary) went off the script and announced the results instead, yet he was to do so at 3 pm. It happened before Dr. Lutomiah could submit the manual ones. The results he had were from the Cobas machines.”