Supply HIV test kits to hospitals immediately

Hiv Testing Services provider Irene Marete displays the test kit at the North Star Alliance- Mlolongo Wellness Centre. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Reports of a serious shortage of HIV testing kits and condoms in some public health facilities should be taken with utmost seriousness.

Hospitals in Makueni County were the first to complain about the acute shortage. But now it has emerged that other counties, among them Homa Bay, Mombasa, Bomet, Kilifi, Siaya and Kwale are also facing the same problem.

Kenya has made remarkable progress in the war against HIV/Aids over the years. It has managed to reduce the number of HIV infections through campaigns and treatment programmes. Besides, testing, people with HIV/Aids patients have been able to get free anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs.

Due to unrelenting efforts, the HIV prevalence rate, that stood at 10.5 per cent in 1996, has reduced to 4.9 per cent. The mother-to-child HIV infections reduced greatly. We cannot afford to roll back this progress.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time a shortage of these important supplies is being reported. Last year, some hospitals went without HIV testing kits for up to three months. A shortage of ARVs was also reported in some of the public hospitals.

When asked about the current shortage after the Makueni case was reported, the Director of Medical Services - Preventive and Promotive Health Services, Dr Andrew Mulwa, said there were enough test kits but blamed the problem on tussles between the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) and the counties over debts running into millions of shillings.

We cannot and should not allow tiffs between Kemsa and counties to put the lives of millions of Kenyans at risk. Kemsa and the county governments are not private entities; they belong to the public. The money and even medical supplies they are fighting over, if that is true, belong to the public - the same public that they are harming. That is absurd.

The right thing for Kemsa to do, if indeed it has adequate testing kits and condoms, is to release the same to the counties and fight its wars with the errant counties either in court or other fora. Endangering the lives of Kenyans in order to punish county governments is irresponsible.