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UK funds coronavirus antibody study in Kenya

Image: US Army Europe

Survey will track viral exposure in blood donors, pregnant women and healthcare workers

The United Kingdom is funding a study in Kenya to assess Covid-19 antibody levels among blood donors, expectant mothers and healthcare workers. 

Anne Marie Trevelyan, the UK’s international development secretary, announced the funding on 4 August at a “virtual visit” to Kenya, during which she interacted with leading health officials and local researchers. 

The £1.1 million (US$1.5) study, funded by UK aid and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is expected to draw to a close in June next year. The aim is to monitor, understand and inform Kenya’s coronavirus response and provide lessons for other African countries. 

By monitoring the level of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in the community, health officials can estimate the general exposure to the novel coronavirus and also estimate the number of asymptomatic infections. 

One study in Kenya, published last week as a preprint, estimated that by the middle of June, one in 20 adult Kenyans had been exposed to the virus—vastly more than official case numbers.

“The UK is placing science at the heart of our support for Kenya during this pandemic. We believe these studies will provide robust predictions about the spread of infection and help to control the disease, contributing to keeping us all safe,” Trevelyan said. 

The study is led by scientists from the Kenya Medical Research Institute-Wellcome Trust Research Programme, based in the coastal town of Kilifi.