AKU's Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic in East Africa

The Aga Khan University is at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19 in East Africa. The University is responding to the pandemic in the following ways:

Providing safe, high-quality care for infected patients and patients with other illnesses and conditions​​

Rigorous infection-control protocols

  • The Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi (AKUH, N) began preparing for the arrival of SARS-CoV-2 in January, long before Kenya recorded its first case. The Hospital has implemented a detailed plan to ensure the safety of patients and staff. COVID-19 patients are cared for in designated spaces that are separated from areas where other patients are treated, and strict infection prevention measures have been put in place across the Hospital. In March, AKUH, N became the first private hospital in Kenya to treat a COVID-19 patient. ​

  • Safety measures being taken include the following:

    • Visitors to our facilities are screened on entry and have their temperature checked.

    • Everyone is required to wear a mask and sanitize their hands prior to entering the Hospital.

    • Measures have been taken to enable physical distancing in waiting areas, etc.

  • Staff are being provided with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) given their duties and have been trained in its correct use.

  • Staff have been given special training in handling suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases.

  • The housekeeping staff has been given special training in disinfecting the Hospital and are working around the clock to make sure all spaces are disinfected on a regular basis.

  • Staff have been provided with digital thermometers to take home so they can regularly check themselves and their family members for any indication of fever.

Providing safe, high-quality care for non-COVID-19 patients

  • The Aga Khan University Hospital and all other AKU health care facilities in Kenya and Uganda are open for patients with a wide range of conditions.   

  • In addition to providing care within the Hospital, AKUH, N has also made it possible for patients to access care without leaving home.

    • Telehealth services have been established so people can consult their doctor online or over the phone.

    • Mobile laboratory and pharmacy services are available. Patients can have medications delivered to their home, and AKUH, N staff can collect samples for laboratory testing from patients at home.

Preparing for the future

  • The Hospital has been preparing for a variety of potential scenarios. For example:

    • A full-scale mass casualty drill was conducted to simulate a situation in which a large number of infected individuals seek care at the Hospital. Media organizations and representatives from the United States Embassy and the British Army were present as observers.

    • A new Field Hospital with room for up to 100 beds has been created next to AKUH, N. In the event the main Hospital experiences a shortage of beds for COVID-19 patients, the Field Hospital can be put into operation. ​

Providing COVID-19 testing

  • The Aga Khan University Hospital performed its first COVID-19 test on March 13, making it the first private hospital in Kenya to test for the coronavirus. As of July 15, it has conducted 6,300 tests.

  • Free COVID-19 testing is provided for all inpatients and surgery and day-surgery patients.​​

Conducting research to better understand the virus, and innovating to ensure patient and staff safety and high-quality patient care​

  • AKU's COVID-19-related research projects include:

  • A convalescent plasma therapy study to determine if antibodies from the plasma of recovered COVID-19 patients can be used to treat patients who are critically ill. AKU is the only institution in East Africa conducting such a trial.

  • Participation in an international clinical trial of the drug tocilizumab, which shows promise in treating patients with COVID-19. AKU is the only institution in Africa outside South Africa participating in this trial (funded by Genentech).

  • A study using PET-CT and MRI scans to better understand why patients with cardiovascular conditions are more severely affected by COVID-19 (funded by the University of Edinburgh).

  • A study of immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 (funded by the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership).

  • A study designed to better understand the spread of COVID-19 in rural Kenya through sero-surveillance and household transmission studies (funded by the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership).

  • A study of COVID-19 infections in pregnant women and their babies (funded by the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership).

  • A study of the impact of COVID-19 mitigation measures on reproductive health in Kenya (funded by UNFPA).​

  • AKU faculty and staff in Kenya are innovating in a number of ways to enhance patient safety and care. For example:

    • Modifying ventilators so they can be used to support two patients at a time in an emergency situation.

    • Developing a UV light machine for disinfecting hospital spaces.

    • Modifying beds to enable safe transportation of patients within the hospital.

    • In-house production of hand sanitizer that meets World Health Organization standards. ​

Advising government and other hospitals and health care professionals


  • AKU experts are helping to advise the Government of Kenya as members of infectious disease and disaster preparation committees.

  • With financial support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, AKU is helping Pumwani Maternity Hospital in Nairobi, one of Africa's largest maternity hospitals, to provide safe care to mothers and babies during the pandemic.

  • Under a memorandum of understanding between AKU and Murang'a County, staff from Murang'a County's new intensive care unit are gaining experience through two-week attachments at the Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi.

  • AKU has been providing online training in infection control to nurses across Kenya.

  • AKU's School of Nursing and Midwifery in East Africa helped to develop a suite of courses on COVID-19 that is being delivered to thousands of nurses and midwives in East Africa via a mobile app.

  • As part of the Government of Canada-funded project known as AQCESS, AKU is working with Kilifi County Government to provide personal protective equipment and training on COVID-19 to health care workers.

  • AKU provided personal protective equipment and testing kits to the Ministry of Health during the early stages of the pandemic, for which the Cabinet Secretary for Health publicly thanked AKU.

  • In consultation with clergy and other opinion leaders, AKU is in the process of finalizing draft ethical guidelines for the provision of care during a potential surge in COVID-19 cases. The guidelines will be forwarded to the Ministry of Health for review and further guidance before they can be finalized for use.


  • AKU's School of Nursing and Midwifery in Uganda conducted a two-week online training course for intensive care unit nurses at Bombo Military Hospital from April 22-May 7. The course included coverage of caring for COVID-19 patients. A second training is scheduled for later in June.

  • Two three-day training courses on infection prevention and control in the age of COVID-19 have been provided to senior nurses in various hospitals.

  • Training on preventing infection from COVID-19 has been provided to several corporations.

  • AKU medical centres are referring potential COVID-19 cases to the Ministry of Health. The centres are also providing patients with information on social distancing, hygiene, use of masks, etc., via fliers, banners and person-to-person discussion.

  • AKU's School of Nursing and Midwifery in East Africa helped to develop a suite of courses on COVID-19 that is being delivered to thousands of nurses and midwives in East Africa via a mobile app.


  • In Mwanza Region, as part of the IMPACT project funded by Global Affairs Canada, AKU's School of Nursing and Midwifery has designed four courses on COVID-19 that will be integrated into an ongoing clinical mentorship programme for staff at government health facilities.

  • AKU's Institute for Educational Development will be working with teachers and social workers in Lindi Region to disseminate health education that focuses on protecting oneself from COVID-19.

  • AKU and the Aga Khan Health Services launched CoronaCheck, a mobile app that helps Tanzanians to determine if they need to be tested for the virus. The app can be downloaded free of cost.

  • AKU's School of Nursing and Midwifery in East Africa helped to develop a suite of courses on COVID-19 that is being delivered to thousands of nurses and midwives in East Africa via a mobile app.​

Educating the public

  • AKU experts have been prominently featured in the media (print, radio, online, television and social media) and are helping to keep the public informed about the coronavirus and how they can stay safe. The University has appeared in more than 800 media stories since February 28.

  • AKUH, N has held COVID-19 literacy sessions for insurance companies, corporations and media organizations.

  • AKUH, Nairobi's COVID-19 hotline and email address are manned by trained nurses. They have responded to 2,000+ inquiries to date.  ​

Teaching online so that students can continue learning while remaining safe​

  • Shifting to online instruction on short notice required a tremendous effort by our faculty and staff. Fortunately, AKU already has substantial experience in online learning. A faculty development programme in blended learning has been in place since 2011, and 1,500+ online AKU courses are available for faculty to use. The University's Network of Quality Teaching and Learning is playing a key role in facilitating effective online teaching, and has trained 200+ faculty and staff across the entire University.

  • All AKU programmes in East Africa are conducting online courses for students.  

Enlisting the support of the AKU community​​

  • At the request of our supporters, we have established a COVID-19 Fund to accept donations that will be used to support our efforts. 

Last updated July 20, 2020