Kenya fires lead scientist in COVID-19 fight for releasing test results late

Mohammed Awal Apr 27, 2020 at 08:30am

April 27, 2020 at 08:30 am | News

Mohammed Awal

Mohammed Awal

April 27, 2020 at 08:30 am | News

Health Cabinet Secretary, Mutahi Kagwe: Photo: Mt. Keyna Times

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.

Kenya’s Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe ordered the removal of Dr. Lutomiah, who also served as the director for the Centre for Virus Research, Daily Nation reports.

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.

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.

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.”

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