Kenyatta University has become the new hub of multibillion shillings health investments after it was picked to host the first World Bank-funded regional infectious disease unit in East Africa.

This comes days after the World Health Organisation revealed plans to build Africa’s first health emergency hub on a parcel of land on the institution whose dispute claimed the career of its vice-chancellor.

The Ministry of Health says in internal documents that the World Bank-funded infectious disease unit (IDU) to be located at Kenyatta University will be run by the Kenyatta National Hospital.

Tender documents  show that the government has already secured the land for construction of the unit and is consequently seeking for consultants to help kickstart the process of setting up the facility.

The move underlines efforts by Kenya to increase its capacity to respond to future pandemics. This comes at a time when the country is facing a growing burden of infectious diseases including the ongoing Covid-19, cholera, and Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR-TB); and remains at risk of others such as Ebola according to experts.

Kenya argues that as a major African trade and travel hub, with open and porous borders, the country is vulnerable to infectious diseases of public health importance hence the need for setting up the facility. Kenya bore the brunt of Covid-19 cases and says there is a need for strengthening the capacity for “preparedness and response to handle public health emergencies.”

“It is projected that highly infectious and life-threatening diseases will become more frequent due to climate and environmental changes,” says the Health Ministry in a concept note outlining the basis of building the IDU.

“For Kenya to remain vigilant to emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, there is a need to set up a national infectious disease unit as a centralised model for the management of highly infectious diseases. Patients with highly infectious diseases need effective medical care in a secure high-level isolation unit to prevent the spread and provide quality treatment.”

WHO says Kenya has granted it 200 acres despite complaints by the former KU administration on grounds that it was not consulted.

Fired KU Vice-Chancellor Paul Wainaina had earlier said the earmarked land belonged to the university and had been set aside for development projects. Prof Wainaina said the university was not opposed to any project, but that “proper procedure and process must be followed.”

President Uhuru Kenyatta launched construction of the facility recently.

The regional facility, the first of its kind in a network of African centres, will include a training centre and house a cadre of professionals that can respond to a medical emergency within its first 24 hours as well as stockpiles of medical equipment.

The hub would be used to store medical supplies and kits, which would then be deployed to the field more rapidly in response to public health emergencies in Eastern and Southern Africa.

WHO says it would also share the property with other health agencies such as the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (AfricaCDC), which also aims to improve its response timelines for public health emergencies in the region.

Africa faces more than 100 health emergencies a year, ranging from disease outbreaks to natural and man-made disasters.

Experts have warned that population growth, booming global economies and human encroachment into forests are fuelling the spread of new and existing viruses.

According to a WHO analysis published last week the threat posed by zoonotic diseases, which jump from animals to humans, is surging in Africa. In the past 10 years, the number of outbreaks has risen by 63 percent compared to the previous decade.

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