Kenya’s health innovation capacity
The Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) is the premier R&D organization with a national mandate to “conduct health sciences research and generate research findings applicable towards improvement of health status”. KEMRI was established in 1979 as one of the five public research institutes under the Science and Technology Act (cap 250) laws of Kenya. The institute has ten research centres located in various parts of the country meant to address various aspects of health research including health biotechnology. These centres have over 800 scientific and technical staff with over 200 biomedical scientists in such fields as microbiologists, clinicians, social scientists, pharmacists, epidemiologists, immunologists, virologists. The technical staff includes laboratory technologists, public health and clinical officers and pharmaceutical technologists (KEMRI website). KEMRI has developed at least two products namely Hepcell which is a diagnostic kit for detecting human hepatitis B surface antigen and particle agglutination, which is also a diagnostic kit for the same, developed using locally produced reagents, doesn’t require electric power and its results can be viewed using the naked eye. The development of both these products has been supported by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, which has also funded the product commercialization facility at KEMRI. KIRDI is a technology development and management agency of the government, which operates under the Ministry of Trade and Industry. It was established and incorporated under the Science and Technology Act (cap 250) in 1979 with an intention similar to that of KEMRI. The institute has several objectives that are important for all innovation activities including those in health biotechnology, such as enhancing the national industrial technology innovation process as a strategy towards rapid socio-economic development, contributing to the development of sufficient capacity for industrial research and development, contributing to the creation of the national wealth in disembodied technologies that are appropriate and accessible to micro and small enterprises in Kenya, and facilitating access by local enterprises to Business Development Services including cleaner production and industrial information. These two institutes are supported through a range of smaller research institutes and international research institutes operating in Kenya such as African Insect Science for Food and Health (ICIPE) and local universities and firms. KARI has a well-established biotechnology tradition, which also lends strength to health innovation through biotechnology inputs.