CS Kagwe justifies demotion of KEMRI Director over Covid-19 results


CS Kagwe justifies demotion of KEMRI Director over Covid-19 results
Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe and Dr. Joel Lutomiah, who was the Director, Centre for Virus Research at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI). PHOTO| COURTESY

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe now says Dr. Joel Lutomiah, who was the Director, Centre for Virus Research at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) was removed from the position for failing to release Covid-19 test results within the agreed time frame.

CS Kagwe, however, maintains that Dr. Lutomiah was not sacked from the institute but was only asked to “step aside from Covid-19 administrative duties” pending investigations into his conduct.

In a letter to the Senate responding to queries regarding Dr. Lutomiah’s removal as Director of KEMRI’s Centre for Virus Research (CVR), Kagwe says the agreement between KEMRI and the Ministry of Health was that Covid-19 test results of the previous day would be released to Afya House between 8am and 9am.

According to the CS, on the material day, Dr. Lutomiah did not release the results as had been agreed.

“Dr. Lutomiah’s removal from his administrative position as head of Centre for Virus Research was as a result of failure to release results to the Ministry on time as had been agreed upon,” says Kagwe in the letter.

The Health CS points out that KEMRI has five centres that are testing Covid-19 samples in Kilifi, Nairobi, Kisumu, Kericho and Busia with each one of them being headed by a Deputy Director who coordinates the testing at the particular centre.

As the Deputy Director-CVR, Kagwe says Dr. Lutomiah had the overall responsibility of collecting and transmitting the results of Covid-19 from all the five KEMRI centres to Ministry of Health on time.

“Owing to the National importance of transmitting results on time and the delays attributed to Dr. Lutomiah, immediate administrative action was taken.

“We confirm that Dr. Lutomiah was not sacked. It was administrative undertaking to reassign Dr. Lutomiah his Professional role and remove him from his administrative position of Deputy Director,” adds the CS.

A report by KEMRI CEO Prof. Yeri Kombe submitted to the Senate by the CS and which outlines details of Dr. Lutomiah’s  track record in submitting Covid-19 test results show that between April 1 and April 17, 2020 he had been making submissions within the required 8am-9am time frame.

According to the report, it is only on two occasions that he was late in dispatching the results — on April 8 when he released results to the Ministry at 11:07am and April 5 at 9.50am.

Kagwe maintains that the removal of Dr. Lutomiah from the position has not had adverse effects on the general functioning of the centre and the morale of other researchers at KEMRI.

“The testing and reporting of Covid-19 continues and is proceeding well and in a timely manner,” says the CS.

Meanwhile, Dr. Lutomiah maintains that he was not given an opportunity to defend himself before he was dismissed from the position.

Appearing before the Senate Adhoc Committee on Coronavirus on Friday, the former director said on the material day, CS Kagwe wanted to announce Covid-19 results at 10am yet the report was not ready.

Dr. Lutomiah claims he tried to the best of his ability to have the results submitted to the Ministry as soon as possible, but the CS and Director General Dr. Patrick Amoth later called and lectured him before he was relieved of his duties.

He maintains that despite writing to the KEMRI CEO Prof. Yeri Kombe, his concerns are yet to be addressed.

The Adhoc committee will look into the letter from the CS and submissions by Dr. Lutomiah before compiling findings and recommendations in a report that is set to be submitted to the Senate.

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Story By Benjamin Muriuki
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