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Broke counties hit by HIV drugs shortage


Kisumu Governor Anyang' Nyong'o addresses the press on measures taken by counties to respond to Covid-19 in Nairobi, yesterday. [David Njaaga, Standard]

The Council of Governors (CoG) has raised alarm over the shortage of anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs in regional hospitals.

Five counties with high HIV and Aids prevalence reported an adverse shortage of drugs for newborns and adults.

The dire situation of unavailability of ARVs in county hospitals comes at a time when the devolved units are cash strapped following delayed disbursement of funds to counties.

The CoG’s chair for Health Committee Anyang’ Nyong’o said Siaya, Kisumu, Migori and Busia were the worst hit counties, with Homa Bay reporting total unavailability of ARV drugs in hospitals.

Nyong’o, who is the Kisumu governor, said lack of paediatric ARVs regimen in the country compromised the health of children living with HIV, especially newborns.

“Currently there are serious challenges with the paediatric ARV medication. The component of this regimen called Kaletra is missing in totality in the country. This means that children are not accessing the full range of ARVs hence there is treatment failure among the children,” Nyong’o said on Wednesday.

Inability to test

Speaking on the counties’ preparedness on coronavirus pandemic, the governor noted that the committee has written to National Aids and STIs Control Programme (Nascop) requesting it to provide guidelines directing the inclusion of Nevirapine into the children’s ARV medication to ease the suffering of children living with HIV.

Nevirapine prevents the multiplication of the virus in the body and is mostly used by adults. “We note that changing the ARVs prescribed course of treatment regimen in the short term is not advisable as it will lead to resistance of the drug and that is dangerous to health,” said Nyong’o.

Governors have also expressed the inability to test for viral load in hospitals hence presenting a gap in the fight against HIV, with the health committee’s chair anticipating increased HIV-related deaths if the situation is not addressed as a matter of priority.

The report on the unavailability of the drugs in the counties came in the backdrop of public outcry on shortage of ARVs. This compelled the government to waive taxes on a shipment of the drugs held at the Mombasa port over a tax dispute with an American donor agency, USAid.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Finance gave the go-ahead for clearance of a consignment of the life-extending drugs for HIV and Aids patients.

The National Treasury said it had received and approved a request by the Ministry of Health to exempt a shipment of ARVs that was held at the port from tax. 

Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani said they were “moved to give the waiver given the unique situation and public interest”.


The disagreement between the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) and USAid had left the medicines languishing at the port, as the Kenya Revenue Authority demanded tax for the drugs that are given out free to patients.

At the centre of the disagreement was USAid’s decision to amend its contract with the Health ministry, hence stripping Kemsa of the role to procure billions of shillings worth of medical supplies on its behalf.

For the last five years, USAid donations have been supplied through Medical Commodity Programme, a partnership between USAid and the Government of Kenya that lapsed last September but was extended to this month and will lapse in 16 days.

At present, Kemsa is reviewing tenders for the procurement of ARV drugs Tenofovir (300mg), Lamivudine (300mg) and Dolutegravir (50mg), which are funded by a grant from the Global Fund to fight Aids, tuberculosis, and malaria.

Another amendment two months later saw the US Government withdraw a $5.2 million (Sh562 million) support towards the Medical Commodities Programme.

Details available publicly on a US Government website tracking its spending on aid programmes indicate that Kemsa was facing questions over procurement fraud.

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