Improving diagnosis of maternal infections in Kenya

Kenya Newton Prize 2020 winning project researchers in the lab

Rates of maternal complications such as sepsis, still births, premature delivery, new-born sepsis, and new-born deaths are high in Kenya. A strong contributing factor is maternal infection with pathogens such as Ureaplasma unrealyticum, Mycoplasma hominis and Group B hemolytic streptococci (GBS). Successful treatment of these infections relies on fast and accurate diagnosis, but current methods are time-consuming, costly and often unviable in poor and remote regions where electricity is not always available.

A team of researchers from the UK and Kenya have collaborated to address the problem of maternal GBS, which is a predominant cause of stillbirths, neonatal sepsis and mortality in Kenya. The team has developed a simple-to-operate lab-on- a-chip device that can detect GBS in urine samples in less than 20 minutes.

Previous studies indicate that GBS infection rates for expectant mothers are around 12-20%, yet very few women receive routine diagnosis or treatment. This device, termed IFAST (immiscible filtration assisted by surface tension), ensures that patients can be diagnosed and treated quickly during their clinic appointment, reducing the health risks to mothers and their babies.

The researchers hope to adapt and further develop their IFAST platform to support efforts for affordable and robust point-of- care COVID-19 tests in Kenya. The test has been designed with end-users with the aim of establishing the tests within routine clinics to control spread of the pandemic in low resource settings.

The test is simple to do, and the results do not take long to get. This has been very useful for us in deciding who to treat for the bacteria to prevent newborn sepsis.

Anne Nafula, Midwife, Bungoma Country Referral Hospital

This project won the UK-Kenya Newton Prize 2020.

Watch a short film about the project on YouTube.

Pathogen point-of-care analysis

Project leads: Professor Nicole Pamme, University of Hull, UK and Dr Jesse Gitaka, Mount Kenya University, Kenya

Delivery partners: British Council, UK and the National Research Fund, Kenya

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