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Storm over demotion of Kemri’s top official

A protest ensued online on Sunday, April 26 after news that a top Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) had been demoted by Health CS Mutahi Kagwe.

According to reports, Dr Joel Lutomiah who was in charge of Kemri’s Centre for Virus Research was ordered by CS Kagwe to revert to his role as a research scientist on April 17 for allegedly failing to provide COVID-19 results on time for CS Kagwe’s briefing.

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“This is further to our meeting with the Cabinet Secretary on the matter relating to your conduct. You, this morning, delayed the release of Covid-19 laboratory results of last evening contrary to an earlier agreement with the Ministry of Health that you release them before 8 a.m,” reads part of a letter addressed to Dr Lutomiah.

It added:

“You, therefore, have failed in your duty to honour a matter that is of national importance… I hereby relieve you of your duties as the director, Center for Virus with immediate effect. You will handover to Dr Samson Konongoi who will act until a substantive holder is appointed. Meanwhile, revert to your previous position as a research scientist.”

According to sources within the institution, Dr Lutomiah was dismissed for questioning the government’s commitment to supporting the research institute financially as well as providing protective gear to lab workers who claimed they were only supplied with gumboots.

“We only received white gumboots from the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency as personal protective gear last month… He demanded answers and even threatened to stop the tests if we were not given the protective equipment. This is why he has been removed from the position. He is firm,” said a source who spoke to Nation.

Kenyans flocked social media to protest against Dr Lutomiah’s dismissal.

Among them is Prof Davy Koech who argued against Kagwe’s move saying that researches who work with institutions like Kemri cannot be easily replaced asking the Ministry of Health to be slow with anger and judgement.

“My concerns are with researchers at Kemri and other institution. They have years of training, acquired specialised knowledge and skills which cannot be easily replaced,” reads part of his tweet.

Prof Alfred Omenya also questioned Dr Lutomiah’s dismissal and asked CS Kagwe to appreciate researchers’ many years of study and hard work.

Below are some reactions on the same,

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