In Summary
  • Nyaruaba is among a group of dedicated researchers probing coronavirus in order to tame it.
  • Microbiologist is not only trying to prevent spread, but he is also monitoring Kenyans in Wuhan.
  • The authorities are centred at Wuhan Institute of Virology of the Chinese Academy of Science.

When Raphael Nyaruaba got a scholarship to study in China, he knew he was just part of hundreds of lucky Kenyan students training under the Sino-Africa Joint Research Centre, Beijing’s programme to enhance science research cooperation.

But, somehow, he expected that the nature of his profession -- medical microbiology -- would one day plunge him in the middle of a health emergency.

Since the start of January, Mr Nyaruaba, an alumnus of the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), has been part of a group of dedicated researchers poring over coronavirus, to learn how to tame it.

The virus, whose emergency was confirmed early this month, has seen Wuhan City — the headquarters of China’s Hebei province — on a lockdown as authorities try to prevent it from spreading elsewhere.

The authorities are centred at Wuhan Institute of Virology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Mr Nyaruaba is on the team trying to get answers for the scientific community there.

“I wasn’t deployed but I am studying. When asked to help, we all answered the call,” he told the Nation by phone.

“It is the least we can do,” he said referring to the work at the Institute which has become the main reference centre of the province and the entire China.

Mr Nyaruaba went to China in 2017 after completing his internship at Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) in Nairobi. Part of his studies have involved research on viral detection and what scientists call ''isolation'', the actual identification of specific strains.

“Since the current outbreak, we have been hands-on, trying to help as much as we can,” he says.

Coronaviruses, according to the WHO, are a group of viruses that cause diseases in humans, other mammals and birds, causing respiratory infections that often appear like common colds with mild symptoms such as fever and coughs but which may kill on occasion.

The WHO says the viral effect of coronavirus is likened to others such as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars); all of which, when they emerged, caused a near shutdown of the areas of origin.

The virus has seen effects go far beyond the epicentre in Wuhan. Kenya, for instance, announced it was on high alert as there is at least a dozen people arriving into the country from China every day. 

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