Kenya is poised to save Sh71.5 billion following the suspension of debt payments by leading economies last week.
The suspension covers money that is due to the G20 (a group of rich countries) and Paris Club creditors up to the end of 2020.
G20 officials and Paris Club creditors made a move matched by a group of hundreds of private creditors.
Although the aim is to help countries deal with the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, Kenya should look beyond the current crisis and spend the money on sectors that would accelerate industrialisation.
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These sectors include those that are already manufacturing personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks and sanitisers.
According to Trade and Industrialisation Cabinet Secretary Betty Maina, more than 60 companies have the capacity to make some of the medical inputs locally.
It is expected that the Kenya Bureau of Standard (Kebs) will come up with specific safety standards governing the manufacture of masks that will also be acceptable in the regional markets.
CS Maina said the government is in talks with the motor sector to start the production of ventilators, providing yet another opportunity for Kenyan companies to step up the manufacturing of inputs to battle the pandemic.
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The government should, therefore, underwrite the investment required to manufacture the ventilators.
The fact that the pandemic is still in its early stages in Africa and is yet to peak gives us a chance to stockpile these vital medical inputs locally while we still can.
Ventilators are essential in the treatment of other respiratory diseases, which should spur manufacturers to go beyond the call of duty and produce for the larger regional and continental market.
This proposition is bolstered by reports that the discovery of a cure or vaccine is, conservatively, between 18 months and two years away.
The government should also engage the various actors in the medical field to come up with testing kits locally because their availability holds the key to combating the virus.
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The State could also gain production rights for the testing kits from overseas companies to meet local and export demand.
Who knows? These developments could open the door to Kenya eventually becoming a regional pharmaceutical hub.
[Mbatau wa Ngai; firstname.lastname@example.org]