The RaViG project Launch

Coastal Kenya has witnessed recurrent outbreaks of various viral pathogens, including dengue, measles, norovirus, influenza, and SARS-CoV-2. However, there is limited knowledge regarding the origin, transmission patterns, and the distribution of these outbreaks.

While Whole-genome sequencing (WGS) is being incorporated into public health surveillance globally, with the potential to make significant contributions to enhance outbreak response, its use in outbreak response in Kenya is limited and there is no existing capacity for real-time analysis.  Furthermore, there is limited evidence regarding integration of field genomic data into epidemiological investigations and how to quantify and evaluate their public health impacts.

The RaViG project Launched at KWTRP and led by Dr. George Githinji is aimed at assessing whether implementation of real-time, in-field genomics to support investigation and management of suspected viral outbreaks in coastal Kenya is feasible and provides added value to the conventional response, to support public health surveillance and enhance outbreak response.

Speaking during the Launch the Head of the ED Department Dr. Anthony Etyang noted that as seen during the Pandemic Public emergencies required the combined efforts of multidisciplinary fields to be successful. He noted that the RaVIG project was one that could support the collaborative efforts to build capacity to deal with public emergencies.

The RaVIG project assessments will involve coordinating with Kenyan Coastal counties rapid response teams, to work out the logistics of deploying portable sequencing alongside conventional responses. The teams will then deploy portable sequencing during outbreaks of suspected or confirmed viral origin. This will also include stakeholder engagement to inform the development of processes for evaluating portable sequencing. The project team will use a mixed methods approach to compare the sequencing for two selected outbreaks with the conventional outbreak responses to evaluate the added value from the portable sequencing.

The project is a collaboration between the KEMRI Wellcome Trust Research Programme in Kilifi, Kenya (KWTRP), the UK Public Health Rapid Support Team (UK-PHRST), the Kenya Ministry of Health (MoH) and public health officials of six coastal counties. The work has been funded by UK Government Department of Health & Social Care (DHSC) Official Development Assistance via UK-PHRST research funds. The UK-PHRST is funded by UK Aid from the Department of Health and Social Care and is jointly run by UK Health Security Agency and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

Dr. John Kiiru who is Head, Division of Laboratory Sciences, MoH-KE, and Component Head, of the Laboratory Research and Safety at the Kenya National Public Health Institute, highlighted the Partnership with KWTRP during the pandemic that ensured teams worked together and built capacity which has since supported the MOH work beyond the pandemic. “We recognise the RaVIG initiative as being supportive to our aims as a country to accelerate our efforts in early disease warning systems which genomic sequencing is part of” he emphasised.

Reflecting on the importance of partnership the Deputy Director for Research at the UK-PHRST, noted that the team traditionally valued partnerships and approached mot projects by co-creating the responses including capacity building of the teams. “Our footprint is global and looking forward to being part of this work in Kenya”.