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Covid raises cost of imported chemicals to a record Sh36b

By Dominic Omondi | July 24th 2021

The huge cost of Covid-19 prevention and treatment is now clear after the value of imported chemicals hit a record Sh36.2 billion in March. 

Data from the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) show that this was an increase of 62.7 per cent compared to March 2020, with a good chunk of the imports comprising Covid-19 vaccines, laboratory reagents and sanitisers.  

In the same month last year, Kenya imported chemicals worth Sh22.2 billion.

This was more than what the country paid for the importation of petroleum products, usually the highest import. 

In a bid to flatten the Covid-19 curve, the government has increased its efforts to inoculate the most vulnerable population to help the economy return to normalcy. 

About a fifth of imported chemicals include pharmaceutical products, with the country spending over Sh250 billion a year to import the items that also include fertiliser, scented mixtures, ammonia, pesticides, vaccines, cleaning products and laboratory reagents.

During the January-March period — the third quarter of 2020-21 financial year — development spending by the Ministry of Health increased by 26 per cent, largely due to higher Covid-related expenditure. 

In a policy brief published in  July 2020, Dr Edwine Barasa and Dr Angela Kairu of Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) carried out a study to determine the cost of Covid-19 treatment per patient.

They found that Covid-19 case management costs in hospitals are substantial, ranging from Sh21,359 per day for asymptomatic patients.

For patients with mild symptoms, they could cough up Sh21,361 per day, Sh24,705 for those with severe disease and Sh51,684 for critical patients in ICU.

“There is, therefore, urgent need to develop a sustainable financing arrangement for Covid-19 for the country,” said the Kemri team, warning that if the costs were passed on to patients, they would result in a catastrophe and impoverishment. 

They noted that patient health system costs for Covid-19 case management were driven by personal protective equipment (PPE) costs, which account for approximately 65 per cent of total.

Kenya has been receiving money from development partners to help with the fight against Covid-19, including testing and treatment of the viral disease. 

In July, the World Bank approved $130 million (Sh14 billion) additional financing for the Kenya Covid-19 Health Emergency Response Project to facilitate affordable and equitable access to vaccines.

This financing will enable Kenya procure more vaccines via the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team initiative and the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access facilities. 

It will also support the deployment of those vaccines by boosting Kenya’s cold chain storage capacity — including establishing 25 county vaccine stores and equipping 1,177 health facilities with vaccine storage equipment.

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