Science, research and technology in Kenya is coordinated by the National Council of Science and Technology under the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology. Through the ministry, the Government provides resources and incentives to encourage scientific research and innovation. However, science and research in Kenya can be traced back to the early 20th century when the colonial government established research facilities in agriculture and health. They included Scott Agricultural Laboratories in 1903, Coffee Research Services in 1908, Veterinary Research Laboratories in 1910 and Medical Research Laboratory in 1958. The colonialists made similar efforts in the 1940s and 1950s.
After independence in 1963, Kenya established science and research institutions in an effort to use the findings to draft policies and drive the development agenda. In response to growth in national science, research and related activities, the postindependence Government sought a mechanism through which scientific and research could be coordinated and promoted. This led to the enactment of the Science and Technology Act in 1977. It established Advisory Research Committees and the National Council for Science and Technology to serve as advisory institutions to the Government in science and technology. In 2008, the Government set aside Kshs200 million ($2 million) to fund research initiatives in Kenya.
But the biggest chunk of funding comes from the private sector, donors and international agencies. Science, technology and innovation are critical to national development objectives such as poverty alleviation. This is evident in the long-term development blueprint, Vision 2030, where the government has given priority to science, technology and innovation as the foundation for the creation of a robust, knowledgebased economy.
The National Council for Science and Technology (NCST) is responsible for coordinating research in Kenya and advising the Government on research-related matters. NCST makes final decisions about protocol applications in Kenya. Two other national organisations involved in ethical review are the Kenya HIV/AIDS Vaccine Sub-Committee and the Pharmacy and Poisons Board, both of which are affiliated to the Ministry of Health. The NCST promulgated Guidelines for Ethical Conduct of Biomedical Research Involving Human Subjects in Kenya sets a framework for determining if a research proposal is ethical. Kenya has a multi-tiered system of human subjects research review.
Research proposals go through two or three rounds of review. Depending on local requirements, some proposals must first be reviewed by the researcher’s department within the local institution. All proposals must then be reviewed by the ethical review committee at the host institution where a local researcher is based or a foreign researcher is collaborating. When this has been completed, a review is performed by NCST. Researchers who are not affiliated to a specific institution or who are affiliated to institutions that do not have ethical review committees should go directly to NCST for review.
Two institutions that have committees that can grant final approval are Kemri and Kenyatta National Hospital. The hospital’s Ethical Review Committee is responsible for reviewing research proposals from Ministry of Health researchers. Kemri has a disciplinary committee that ensures that the agency’s research complies with all requirements. For HIV/Aids vaccine research, investigators must submit a concept paper to the Kenya HIV/Aids Vaccine sub-committee, which responds and advises on the next step.
The investigators must submit a proposal simultaneously to the Pharmacy and Poisons Board and to NCST or any other designated ethical review committee. The two organisations must approve the research plan.
The Government and donors fund most research in Kenya. For example, Wellcome Trust of the UK Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (US) and Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (US) fund the bulk of research programmes at Kari. The partnerships continue to play an important role in training Kenyan scientists.