US-based Kenyan scientist receives Sh1.8bn for research centre backed by Dr. Fauci

Prof Kariuki Njenga
US-based Kenyan scientist Prof Kariuki Njenga. [Photo courtesy]

Highly-coveted USA National Institutes of Health has advanced Ksh1.8 billion towards a Kenyan research programme seeking to put up a state-of-the-art research centre with the view of tackling emerging diseases.

The cutting-edge Centre for Research in Emerging Infectious Diseases-East and Central Africa (Creid-Eca) will be overseen by US-based Kenyan scientist Prof Kariuki Njenga.

Prof Njenga is a virologist and also a senior researcher at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri).

Creid-Eca will study to depth emerging viruses such as COVID-19 and Rift Valley Fever.

Kenya is among 11 countries who will get funding to establish these research centres.

For the first five years, USA’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (Niaid), which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will fund the research centres to a tune of Ksh8.9 billion.

Dr Anthony Fauci, Niaid’s director and also America’s lead physician on coronavirus hailed Prof Njenga’s work citing that it places the world at a better position in battling future outbreaks.

“The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic serves as a potent reminder of the devastation that can be wrought when a new virus infects humans for the first time … the Creid network will enable early warnings of emerging diseases wherever they occur, which will be critical to rapid responses,” Dr Fauci said.

Prof Njenga and his team are now required to “develop reagents and diagnostic assays to improve detection of emerging pathogens and study human immune responses to new or emerging infectious agents”.

In an interview with a local daily, Prof Njenga said the next move in his research as “bold science” stating that he will embark on in-depth research amidst a pandemic and “use real-time results” to solve the same.

His research will be centred around establishing how the viruses and other pathogens from wildlife manage to get out and affect human beings.

Prof Njenga who has been a virologist for 40 years and also teaches at the Washington State University is credited with developing a mechanism which curbed the high prevalence rates of Rift valley Fever, a zoonotic disease affecting both animals and human beings.

In the last decade, Prof Njenga was the head of laboratories at the regional Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Here, he undertook training in the diagnosis of avian influenza for CDC’s 14 regional laboratories in Africa. It is during his tenure here that the CDC labs in Africa conducted tests on haemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola.

The virologist was in 2019 inducted into the National Academy of Sciences for his efforts in empowering human medicine.

National Academy of Sciences is 200 years old and is an elite in the world of science.

Prof Njenga’s new research is expected to give headways in the handling and preparedness of Rift valley Fever.

Rift Valley Fever is among eight other diseases including Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (Mers-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) flagged by the World Health Organization due to the danger they pose to human life.