Usually, the first two weeks of January are busy for researchers and scientists at Kenya Medical Research Institute Laboratories, particularly the viral load testing ones.

The referral lab closes during the festive season from late November through to end of the year.

This means that the new year begins with a backlog of samples from hospitals that the lab needs to analyse. It used to take a long time to clear them.

However, that has changed thanks to the Cobas 8800 viral load testing machine donated to the institution’s Mbagathi lab last August. 

Read: Kemri launches new machine for testing HIV viral load in lab

Kemri’s chief research officer Matilu Mwau told the Star that with their normal machines, it would take the viral load testing and analysis lab more than 20 days or the whole month to clear the December backlog. 

“The new machine has surpassed our expectations. It took a record seven days to clear the festive season’s backlog of samples,” he said. 

The Sh400 million state-of-the-art machine was donated by Roche Diagnostics – a Swiss-based manufacturer of biotech.

It has the capacity to analyse more than 3,000 samples per day if operated on a 24-hour basis.

The UN agency’s figures indicate that 53,000 new infections were reported in Kenya in 2017 and 28,000 deaths. 

It also stated that there were 1.5 million people living with the virus in the country. Treatment among adolescents is indicated to be the lowest at 24 per cent. 

According to UNAIDS Kenya has the joint fourth largest epidemic in the world, alongside Mozambique and Uganda.

The report signed by outgoing director Michell Sidibe stated that although there has been a breakthrough in controlling infections there are worries over complacency.


Part of the anti-HIV campaign has been heightening testing so as to have people know their status.

Mwau said the machine “has been an excellent plug-in, ensuring that the samples take a short time to be analysed and the results transmitted to the referring hospitals fast.

He said the machine’s speed has helped ease the anxiety that comes with waiting for sample results for long.

“It has made the testing process easier for people,” Mwau said in the phone interview.

The Cobass 8800 machine takes less than seven days to handle 960 samples in a eight-hour day shift compared to the ordinary machines which used to take 11 days to two weeks to have the HIV test results.

The machine is the second of its kind in Kenya with the first being in Kisumu. It is the fourth in Africa, Uganda and South Africa have one each.

The UNAIDS 90:90:90 goals target that by 2020, 90 percent of people living with HIV will know their status. 90 per cent of these will receive sustainable antiretroviral treatment and 90 per cent of those on treatment will have sustainable suppression of their virus.

According to a report by Kenya Aids Strategic Framework, counties around the lake region of Nyanza have the highest number of HIV infections.

However, UNAIDS posits that there hope as the efforts directed against the scourge over the last ten years appear to have been bearing fruits

Hosting the two ubiquitous machines have positioned the country to be the foremost champion against the disease in the region. Having been the first to approve the use of PrEP and has leading the way in providing voluntary medical male circumcision adds to this accolade.

It also adds that as of 2016, 64 per cent of people living with HIV in the country were able to access treatment. 

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