US wants top security for Kenya’s germ labs

US Senator Richard Lugar with Director of the Kenya Medical Research Institute Dr Solomon Mpoke during a press conference after he toured laboratories at the institute in Nairobi, November 12, 2010. Photo/STEPHEN MUDIARI

Daily Nation

Kenya has been asked to beef up the security of its germ handling laboratories

A strong team from the US Department of Defence, which has been in the country inspecting the government laboratories, on Friday raised concern that some of them were close to residential areas.

The visit by the team led by Republican Senator Richard Lugar was prompted by concerns that some of the Kenyan laboratories are not well protected and that dangerous organisms could fall in the hands of terrorists.  “The world is full of people keen to use dangerous biological material to achieve their political desires by harming others through diseases,” said Senator Lugar, who has spent a chunk of his time in the Senate addressing issues relating to bio-terrorism.

However, he said the US had no “actionable intelligence” to show that Kenyan laboratories posed a security threat. There is a strong American military presence in local research institutions.  “The fact that Kenyan facilities host a high collection of pathogens underlines the need for greater security as well as in the neighbourhoods,” Mr Lugar said after an inspection tour of the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri).

The American advised the institute to strengthen its waste disposal mechanisms. Dr Solomon Mpoke, the Kemri director, said they had never experienced any insecurity incident, but spoke of plans to strengthen the fencing of their facilities.  Kenya was singled out for special attention because it neighbours Somalia, which has become the hub of terrorist groups. Mr Lugar said the tour was aimed at ensuring that the US works with Kenya to secure the laboratories.

he Lugar team was expected to recommend stringent vetting procedures for people working in local biomedical labs or demand that such dangerous samples be stored in the US.  Security concerns over labs handling pathogens have for many years been based on possible accidental escape into the environment as happened once in the US when an Ebola-like virus, called Reston, escaped from a monkey holding facility near Washington in 1989.

Fears of a bio-terrorism attacks were solidified in 2001 when an anthrax attack killed five people and infected 17 others. Also visited was the Institute of Primate Research, Karen. Kemri has five labs in Nairobi shared between Kenyatta National Hospital and its headquarters in Nairobi.

Another major biomedical laboratory at the Kemri Centre in Kilifi, is under the UK’s Wellcome Trust Research Programme.

The other top level laboratory handling highly contagious pathogens was built recently at the Kenyatta National Hospital’s campus of the University of Nairobi’s College of Health Sciences.

COMMENTS

Submitted by shebewajir

Posted November 13, 2010 03:30 PM

these some of the things that a foreign nation don’t have to tell us…..a security mechanism is supposed to be there in the first place…..

Submitted by yaaalif

Posted November 13, 2010 03:04 PM

because we are stupid…Americans dictate to us what they want

Submitted by kirobwe

Posted November 13, 2010 01:12 PM

Scientific laboratories like KEMRI, ILRI and others need protection due to bio-molecular mutation, which can be lethal to human life if it falls in wrong hands. It is imperative to take the security seriously. Chemical and molecular pathogens need careful professional handling. It can be harmful innocently or catastrophic magnitude in terrosist hands. We had 1998 Nairobi bombing and Kikambala and Kampala lately. Secure for our safety.

Submitted by muhadhara

Posted November 13, 2010 11:55 AM

this is more than partnership it is outright colonisation by the americans for example why does rennerburger[dont know if i have writen wel]is in coast to lecture our cabinet?

Submitted by Boaboa

Posted November 13, 2010 11:37 AM

Why do we have to be managed like little children? does it mean now these chaps have to tell us when to sweep, when to eat, when to stand, when to sit etc? I think we need to mature

Submitted by andungi

Posted November 13, 2010 10:09 AM

Beefing up security on germ labs should already be there. My concern is the right wing of America exporting their political ideologies to Kenya. We already see how bitter they are to have about their president and they negatively tie him to Kenya even trying to tarnish Kenya’s name. We should not let them cause hysteria in our country like they have in US through propaganda.

Submitted by krugutt

Posted November 13, 2010 09:01 AM

I think many ordinary Kenyans, including some researchers did not know that Kenyan laboratories had the capability of researching on biological organizisms, here referred to as “germs” until an American senator made it public on the Kenyan soils. I wish this discussion had not been made public for this calls for heightened security around all our labs 24hrs/7days/week. This will be very costly to the government and to wanainchi. Further, everybody now knows that Kenya has these “germs”.

Submitted by markbatess

Posted November 13, 2010 04:32 AM

Biolabs are a very good idea. The biolabs are too close to the population centers. Criminally prosecute all who approved those labs. And move the labs.

Submitted by Kakanega1900

Posted November 13, 2010 02:05 AM

The Kenya government and Kenyan people must be the ones who must decide who can work at the biological research labs and how. Foreigners even if they are co-sponsors of infrastructural developments and research programs in Kenyan research institutions are welcome to contribute to security and other issues.

Submitted by bnmanage

Posted November 13, 2010 01:07 AM

Why do people say “this and this needs to be done!”? Here in Kenya, currently if you expect the government to actually do anything and fix problems, then you’ll be saddened.

Submitted by whynotyou

Posted November 12, 2010 11:28 PM

why Kenya, why now. US right wing politics have found a new home in Kenya

Submitted by juju

Posted November 12, 2010 10:24 PM

Do we always have to be told what to do while knowing too well what is necessary? Shame, Shame, Shame.