Before the Covid-19 pandemic crisis few Kenyans had heard of Dr Rashid Aman, the Chief Administrative Secretary in the Ministry of Health. The official went about his duties for two years, largely avoiding the limelight, save for a few low-key events where he represented former Health Cabinet Secretary (CS) Sicily Kariuki.
Then came the pandemic and his status changed from a shadow figure at Afya House to the face of Kenya’s coronavirus fight alongside his colleagues Dr Mercy Mwangangi and Health CS Mutahi Kagwe.
Dr Aman has emerged as a voice of reason during his briefings, tirelessly urging the citizenry to adhere to containment measures provided by the ministry. It has of course helped that he expertly employs a gentle tone even when he is admonishing Kenyans for flouting the simple guidelines.
Unlike one of his colleagues whose frustration at such careless disregard for health safety by the public is often evident in the briefings, Dr Aman has remained stoic imploring Kenyans to do better.
It was evident from the start of the crisis that Dr Aman, a researcher by profession, was a leader who is rarely swayed by public sentiments, but leans on logic to make decisions. This was exemplified in February during a press conference which followed a public uproar regarding the arrival of a 239-passenger jet from China. The arrival, only made public by a Kenya Airways whistleblower, was of great public health concern, considering that China was the epicentre of the health crisis.
Dr Aman, however stood his ground and said flights and passengers from China were still rightly allowed to enter the country, noting that it would be discriminatory not to allow in the Chinese because a virus could be imported from any part of the world. Not yielding to public demand to lock out Chinese flights, Dr Aman proposed that “a more scientific approach was required in dealing with the virus”. His logic later proved sound when Kenya reported its first Covid-19 case— a woman who travelled back to Nairobi from the United States via London, United Kingdom on March 5.
It is the same reasoned thinking that saw him emerge unscathed when he later courted more controversy when, aware that only 11 isolation beds were available in the country, he said they (government) were trusting on the “goodwill” of the Chinese people to self-quarantine.
Besides urging Kenyans to do their part to flatten the curve, which essentially means lowering new infections, Dr Amani has been at the forefront of the Covid-19 battle, co-ordinating efforts between the national and county government, tackling testing kits shortage in collaboration with his teammates.
He has repeatedly guided tours to hotspots in several counties to ensure that testing for the respiratory disease was taking place.
Amid the search for a Covid-19 vaccine, Dr Aman has been championing a home-grown solution. Rather than look to the West for solutions, he has at every turn challenged Kenyan scientists to step up and be counted.
And it appears they have taken up the challenge going by Tuesdays reports when the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) said it had managed to identify at least nine strains of the coronavirus, which is expected to help in narrowing down to a vaccine.
“This pandemic is an opportunity to uplift the level of science a notch higher in this country,” Dr Aman is reported as saying during a courtesy call.
Dr Aman is a distinguished scientist himself. He is a trained pharmacist from the University of Nairobi, holds a PhD in pharmaceutical chemistry from University of California and also has a postdoctoral fellowship from Stanford University.
The official, who turns 62 on Monday, is also well-published in the research world and has vast experience in management and consultancy. He is also an honorary research professor at Strathmore University.
He is an entrepreneur as well having founded the Centre for Drug Management and the African Centre for Clinical Trials.
He has served on boards of several institutions including the Kenya National Museums where he is credited with developing its human capital, boosting its molecular genetic study capacity as well as infectious agents.
Dr Aman was appointed to the Ministry of Health (MoH) in January 2018 where he has served, surviving the purge in a January reshuffle. He remained put, probably, a sign that he is a prized asset at the Health docket.
He was instrumental in enforcing Covid-19 regulations during Islam’s Holy Month of Ramadhan when on several occasions he took a moment to deliver a personalised message to fellow faithful urging them to stop convening in groups while breaking the fast as is tradition.