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Patients turned away as drug shortage bites over Sh39 million Kemsa debt



Kakamega County Teaching and Referral Hospital entrance, February 1, 2020. [Nathan Ochunge, Standard]

Sitting pensively at the Kakamega County Teaching and Referral Hospital, Mary Atieno ponders her next move.

She just discovered that she won’t be attended to since the referral health facility has run out of essential drugs.

The only option for the 43-year-old is to visit a private health facility. Unfortunately, she cannot afford the treatment cost.

Atieno said that the required drugs at a private facility cost three times more.

“I am diabetic and for the last two years, I have been receiving treatment at the referral hospital. But when I visited today, my doctor told me to get the drugs from another facility,” she said.

Atieno said she has been visiting the hospital for the last five days to get the drugs but in vain.

“I was shocked when I was told that even the management didn't know when the drugs will be supplied." 


Patient exiting Kakamega County Referral Hospital, December 10, 2020. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Maurice Wanjala, 53, was forced to have his wife discharged from the hospital after she was left unattended for two days. The wife is suffering from high blood pressure.

"I thought it wise to take her to another private health facility to save her life. I borrowed money from relatives to meet the medical expenses," he said.

“Doctors and nurses are at the hospital but there is nothing they can do. They also don't know when the drugs will be supplied,” said Wanjala.

And with key essential drugs out of stock, doctors at the facility are afraid that the situation could worsen if the issue is not addressed in the next few days.

“We cannot even conduct simple tests such as malaria, blood sugar and pregnancy, because we don’t have reagents. We might lose patients who are suffering from chronic diseases if the situation is not dealt with,” said a health worker who sought anonymity.

“The supply for drugs and non-pharmaceuticals is limited forcing us to refer patients to private facilities. Medics are demoralised and it hurts when you see a patient in pain, and there is nothing you can do to help,” she added. 

The Standard has established that the shortage of drugs was a result of the Sh39 million debt that the hospital owes Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa).

Kakamega County Health Executive Collins Matemba confirmed that they had run out of essential drugs.


Kakamega County Health Executive Collins Matemba.  Feb 3, 2021. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

However, he was quick to dispel claims that other public health facilities in the county were facing the same problem.

He said all Level I, ll, lll, lV and IV health facilities received drugs about two months ago, save for the referral facility, due to the Sh39 million debt.

“The hospital procured drugs four months ago from Kemsa and the supplies were delivered before we cleared the debt. The previous stocks were depleted end of last month,” said Matemba.

Matemba noted that at the moment, they were unable to procure drugs because Kemsa policy dictates they have to clear the debt first.

“We procured all the drugs required, but the agency only supplied 30 per cent of what we ordered. They did not include essential drugs," he said.

Matemba said the debt in question has been in existence for years, even before he took over the docket.

He said the county government was doing everything possible to clear the debt.

Recently, Governor Wycliffe Oparanya's administration handed all health facilities the autonomy to run their affairs. 

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