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Rise And Fall Of Dr Davy Koech

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Former Kenya Medical Research Institute director Dr Davy Koech.

ACHIEVEMENTS

• In 2006, Dr Koech was nominated for the Genius Laureate of the American Biographical Institute. To date, his name remains among the 500 Greatest Geniuses of the 21st Century.

•He was the youngest medic to ascend to the top seat at Kemri in 1979 at the tender age of 28.

The downfall of renowned researcher and scholar Dr Davy Koech appeared all but complete yesterday after the court ordered he be escorted to prison to start serving his six-year jail term.

From 1980 to early 1990s, Koech’s reputation in scientific research soared globally, earning him accolades for his role in research on HIV/Aids and other emerging tropical diseases. In 2006, Koech was nominated for the Genius Laureate of the American Biographical Institute.

To date, his name remains among the 500 Greatest Geniuses of the 21st Century. And for decades, the scientist remained a powerhouse as he combined his intellectual acumen with political connections to remain afloat.

But yesterday, after failing to raise Sh19.6 million to pay as a fine after he was found guilty of corruptly acquiring public funds, the court slammed the doors on the former Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) boss, ordering that he begins serving his jail term forthwith.

Failed to comply

Senior Principal Magistrate Victor Wakumile said Koech, who was convicted and sentenced and had been given time from September 15 to October 14 to pay the fine or go to jail, had failed to comply with the court’ orders.

“Having given Koech more time to pay the fine in two tranches of Sh9.6 million each to avoid going to jail, he has not complied with the orders. I, therefore, order him to start his jail term from today,” ruled the magistrate.

And with the order, probably came the end of the professional life of one of Kenya’s most illuminating medical researchers whose career exploits will be difficult to erase.

Dr Koech, or Davy as he was known to his peers and friends, was the youngest medic to ascend to the top seat at Kemri in 1979 at the tender age of 28 when he was still a doctoral student in immunology at the University of Nairobi.

Together with Prof Mutuma Mugambi, Koech founded Kemri, which he went on to head as he pioneered many innovative research projects in the country, that included the search for HIV/Aids cure.

Having risen from a chief researcher to a director at the research agency, for years Dr Koech remained one of the most powerful medics who called the shots in the country.

Those who closely worked with him say Koech was one of the few individuals who had the late President Moi’s ear.

In 1988, as his star continued to shine, President Moi appointed him to chair a Commission of Inquiry into the country’s education system.

It was Koech’s commission that came up with recommendations for, among other things, replacement of the 8-4-4 system with Totally Integrated Quality Education and Training (TIQET) that could be said to be the precursor of the Competence Based Curriculum, expansion of compulsory basic education from eight years to 12, removal of examination between primary and secondary school, reduction of subjects at secondary school to ease curriculum overload and introduction of a pre-university level to allow students to mature before going to campus.

Though a man of means and big connections, Koech has always courted controversy throughout his otherwise fulfilling career. It all began on June 1,1990, when President Moi in his address to the nation, announced to the world that Kenya had discovered a drug to cure HIV/Aids, a disease that was then ravaging countries, particularly the third world.

According to the President, the drug, Kemron, developed by Kemri, had so far cured 10 patients under trials.

Shortly after the President’s pronouncement, Koech together with Dr Arthur Obel, the then chief research officer at Kemri, stirred the medical fraternity when they published in two medical journals initial results of Kemron, which they said were born from a preliminary study on 10 patients to cure Aids.

The two scientific papers transformed Koech into an instant global celebrity, winning the hearts of African-Ameri cans who accused the United States Food and Drug Administration of deliberately dragging its feet in the approval of an Aids cure.

To the African-Americans, Koech was a godsend, an icon who had rescued the black communities from the ravages of Aids. The drug was subsequently launched at a colourful ceremony presided over by Moi with the ruling party Kanu leaders hailing it as “a major step in the war against Aids”.

Koech’s claim to fame was, however, short lived as trials funded by the World Health Organisation in 10 African countries failed to identify an iota of health benefits in the drug.

In what would eventually embarrass President Moi and Kenyan medical scientists, WHO declared Kemron as an experimental drug of unproved benefit for HIV/Aids treatment.

As if that was not enough, the American National Institute of Health in its report, dismissed Kemron as “a fraud” since no one had been able to duplicate the effects claimed by Koech’s team. Now Koech, 70, will have to spend the next six years in jail for stealing Kemri money.

Difficult times

Magistrate Wakumile had given Koech time to pay the fine on grounds of his age and his role in the country’s medical research. He was convicted and sentenced on three counts of acquiring public property.

He was charged that on August 17, 2006, in Nairobi he fraudulently obtained Sh800,000 the property of Kemri.

On December 12, 2006, he was convicted of irregularly acquiring Sh6 million. He was also charged with corruptly obtaining Sh12.5 million from the research institution.

In all the three counts and their alternatives, he was ordered to pay the mandatory fine of Sh100,000 or serve a jail term of 12 months.

The sentences were to run consecutively.

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