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WHO approved diabetes kit costly for Kenya

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 18 – A new test for diagnosing diabetes that was recently approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) will not be used in Kenya because of the high cost.

The Head of Non-communicable Diseases Department at the Ministry of Public Health Dr William Maina said on Tuesday that the new test known as glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) costs about Sh600 compared to Sh30 for the random and glucose meter testing which are currently in use.

“You can see that the glycated haemoglobin testing is out of reach for over 90 percent of diabetic patients in this country and because of this gap, we have installed these machines in provincial hospitals, not for diagnostic purposes but for purposes of monitoring the quality of care of patients coming to those hospitals,” Dr Maina said.

According to the WHO, the new test offered a more practical approach to test for diabetes which affects more than 220 million people worldwide.

In an interview with Capital News, Dr Maina said that accessibility of the equipment was also a hindrance to adopting the new method which shows a person’s average blood glucose levels for the previous three months.

“You cannot introduce through a policy something that is not even provided for by government or even private institutions,” he stated.

“This is a new method and even our workers have never been trained on how to do it. It is simply not available, it is simply not affordable to majority of the people who have diabetes in this country. So we are saying at the moment we retain our old method, the glucose testing using the glucose meters (glucometers),” he explained

He said the advantage of glucometers was that they were easily available across the country from the dispensary level and even some community members who have diabetes own those machines.

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It is also not electricity-powered but uses batteries and is easily portable.

“The glucometers do not need a technically trained person to use, they can be used by lay people and even patients are doing home testing and these are the best for developing countries like ours where even the level of literacy and healthcare is still low,” Dr Maina said.

Dr Maina said for the glycated haemoglobin tests, one needed to be trained because it has about seven steps to do one test and needs expensive reagents.

A reagent is a substance or compound that is added to a system in order to bring about a chemical reaction.

“I know of some private hospitals that are charging Sh2,000 for one HbA1c test. We have about 1.6 million people with diabetes, how many can afford that much for a test and we are recommending about two tests per week for a person with diabetes?” he posed.

While recommending its use, WHO Assistant Director General for non communicable diseases Dr Ala Alwan termed it a positive development provided that strict quality assurance tests were in place but noted that the cost would be prohibitive to developing countries.

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