Established in 1989
Who is KEMRI Wellcome Trust?
The KEMRI Wellcome Trust Research Programme (KWTRP) is based within the KEMRI Centre for Geographic Medical Research – (Coast). Our core activities are funded by the Wellcome Trust. We conduct integrated epidemiological, social, laboratory and clinical research in parallel, with results feeding into local and international health policy. Our research platforms include state-of-the-art laboratories, a demographic surveillance system covering a quarter of a million residents, partnership with Kilifi County Hospital in health care and hospital surveillance, a clinical trials facility, a vibrant engagement programme and a dedicated training facility.
The KWTRP leadership includes the Executive Director Philip Bejon, the KEMRI Centre Director Dr. Joseph Mwangangi, Nairobi Programme director Edwine Baraza and the Chief Operating Officer Catherine Kenyatta.
To undertake cutting-edge and novel research relevant to national, regional and global needs.
To conduct high quality, purposeful, and relevant research in human health, building sustainable research capacity and leadership.
- To conduct research to the highest international scientific and ethical standards on the major causes of morbidity and mortality in the region in order to provide the evidence base to improve health.
- To train an internationally competitive cadre of Kenyan and African research leaders to ensure the long term development of health research in Africa
Please see the reviewed KWTRP Strategic Plan 2016-2023 here
The Kenyan Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) was established through the Science and Technology (Amendment) Act of 1979, which has since been amended to Science, Technology and Innovation Act, 2013 with the mandate to carry out health science research in Kenya. The Kilifi-based Centre for Geographic Medicine Coast (CGMR-C) is among the 12 KEMRI centers.
The Wellcome Trust was established in 1936 by an endowment left by Henry Wellcome in his will. Henry Wellcome was a rich businessman and philanthropist in the UK. He also travelled in Sudan and Egypt, where he took an interest in malaria control and commissioned a floating laboratory on the Nile. The Wellcome Trust continues to support research in Africa and was one of the first research institutions to partner with the new independent Government of Kenya in 1964, creating the Wellcome Trust Research Laboratories in Nairobi. In the 1980s a few Wellcome Trust funded scientists including Stephen Oppenheimer and Bill Watkins began working in Kilifi District Hospital in collaboration with KEMRI. In 1989 the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme (KWTRP) was formed, led by Kevin Marsh and Norbert Peshu. Due to the continued growth of research activities in Kilifi, in 1995 KEMRI granted the Kilifi Station a full Centre status as “KEMRI Centre for Geographic Medicine Research – Coast (KEMRI CGMRC).
Finding ways to beat malaria; Initial work focused on malaria, a devastating disease that was causing the deaths of many children. Working closely with colleagues in the Ministry of Health, researchers conducted studies on insecticide-treated bed nets, antimalarial drugs to prevent malaria in pregnant women and descriptions of severe malaria. Over the last 15 years there has been impressive improvements in malaria control across Africa with Kilifi registering 90 percent drop in malaria cases. Today KWTRP continues to build on its early success in bed net trials with work led from Nairobi that provides information and advice to the national malaria control Programme’s of 14 countries, supported by statistical models to generate maps of malaria risk.
In Kilifi Hospital, KWTRP facilitated the creation of a High Dependency Paediatric Unit where severely sick children had intensive monitoring and treatment. The first studies on clinical definitions of severe malaria in children were based on simple observation by the bedside. Work on severe malaria continues today with increasingly sophisticated laboratory work, DNA sequencing and retinal imaging, and clinical trials that have informed the use of anti-epilepsy drugs and fluids in severely unwell children.
As the Programme developed it was apparent that malaria was just one of a host of health problems confronting children on the coast and that often these problems were interrelated. The focus therefore expanded to include work including pneumonia, meningitis, HIV and malnutrition. Other studies included social science and health systems perspectives, as well as research on community involvement.
In early studies KWTRP engaged shopkeepers with a training programme to ensure they gave anti-malarials at the correct dose. If done well this prevents the need for hospital admissions. These successes have been built on in recent times, with KWTRP studies now showing that SMS messages can help doctors and patients to use anti-malarials correctly. KWTRP has also shown how training and support packages can help doctors and nurses in hospital to improve their patient care. These interventions result in patients getting the correct treatment and saving lives.
The cornerstone of research success is community involvement. This is done through regular interactions with opinion leaders and a network of community representatives, the Schools Engagement Programme, social media and regular open days. The programme builds mutual understanding between researchers and the community, and ensures that research is responsive to community views and interests. This research findings have done much to improve the health of the partnering community in Kilifi, and health around Africa. The work has been enhanced by modern technology which now includes online interaction with secondary schools.
Apart from conducting the highest quality research, one of the objectives is to support the development of scientific leadership in Kenya through deliberate capacity building initiatives. KWTRP has a particular focus on building links with schools in the community, which involves promoting better understanding of science and research. In addition, it has a structured internship programme for introducing Kenyan graduates to research training master’s degree and PhD students. Young researchers are supported through a system of career development to join other research institutions in the region or to develop careers with the programme.
Partnerships and Collaborators
The Kenya Medical Research Institute is a national body mandated by an Act of Parliament to provide overall leadership and guidance for health research in Kenya. The KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme is embedded within the KEMRI Centre for Geographic Medicine Research-Coast as one of the KEMRI center’s in Kenya.
The Wellcome Trust is an independent charity funding research to improve human and animal health. Established in 1936 and with an endowment of around 13 billion, it is the UK’s largest non-governmental source of funds for biomedical research. As a privately endowed charity, it is independent from governments, from industry and from donors.
The governing document of the Wellcome Trust is its constitution. This represents an updated version of the will of Sir Henry Wellcome, through which the Wellcome Trust was established in 1936. Ultimate responsibility for all activities lies with the Board of Governors.
The Wellcome Trust has since 1989 funded the Core activities of the KEMRI|Wellcome Trust research programme. Which includes administrative support, and support of the key platforms of clinical services, community engagement, Laboratory’s and the Kilifi Health Demographic Surveillance system. This has over time ensured continuation of the research work undertaken by the Programme.
The University of Oxford is internationally renowned for the quality and diversity of its research, with over 3000 academic staff and 3000 postgraduate students working on research. The university’s position as a centre of excellence is enhanced by the ongoing development of interdisciplinary research centers, and collaboration with international academic and industrial partners. The University has a critical mass of supported researchers both local and international, who work within the Programme. This collaboration has also resulted into a well-defined research capacity building platform for researchers in Africa.
The Department of Health in the County provides overall leadership in health service delivery, and facilitates a cordial co-existence with our research centre. Medical staff from the county and periphery health facilities participates in research activities, including clinical research.
The Nairobi programme has close working relations with the Nairobi county health department working closely with the various health institutions under its mandate to facilitate the research work done. Focus is mainly on policy and improving of health care systems. This has over time been extended to include research in key populations in the city.
In Nairobi, the Programme has forged strong links with the Ministries of Health and Education, with several of the Programme researchers acting as technical advisers to the Kenyan Government departments and playing a major part in the development of national strategies.
A series of clinical trials focusing on in-patient hospital care have led to collaborations in Eastern Uganda, notably in Soroti and Mbale District Hospitals. Mbale Clinical Research Unit has been founded on the grounds of Mbale District Hospital and includes a collaboration with Busitema University.
The work of the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme is also based on other partnerships. Key researchers hold academic positions at a number of institutions including the universities of Oxford and Warwick, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Imperial College, and the Institute of Child Health in London.
KWTRP Researchers are also committed to engaging with the local community, to discuss their research and to build mutual understanding and trust between researchers and the community by responding to various concerns. By developing such strong links, the Programme can ensure that its activities are accepted and approved by local communities – a prerequisite for its long-term studies. Moreover, the close juxtaposition of research and application can help ensure that its activities are focused on delivering practical benefits.
And finally, in a national and international context, the key relationships with policy makers and health officials help to ensure that important research findings make a difference to medical care – and thus have an influence far beyond the geographic areas in which the team works.
The Programme has two main bases in Kenya but works in many other parts of the country and is increasingly involved in regional collaborations to support research in neighbouring countries.
The main centre in Kilifi County, an hour’s drive from Kenya’s second largest city, Mombasa, is based in a busy district hospital, serving over half a million people and linking basic studies to clinical applications with local relevance. We also work in Malindi, Mombasa, Mtwapa and Bondo.
The Ugandan unit is based in Mbale town within the Mbale Regional Referral Hospital and was founded in 2008 in response to the need for evidenced based clinical guidelines.