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Reprieve for patients as Sh1.2b HIV drugs stand-off finally ends

HEALTH & SCIENCEBy MERCY KAHENDA | Wed,Jun 30 2021 00:00:00 EAT
By MERCY KAHENDA | Wed,Jun 30 2021 00:00:00 EAT


Health Cabinet secretary Mutahi Kagwe speaks to the press at Afya House in Nairobi. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

The long-standing stand-off over distribution of Sh1.2 billion HIV drugs that had been held at the Mombasa port for six months has ended.

Dr Ruth Masha, the CEO of the National Aids Control Council, confirmed that wrangling between Kenya and USAid, the United States international donor agency, “has been resolved. It is now upon respective counties to place their order for distribution”.

The impasse over distribution of the ARVs posed a health threat to over 1.5 million Kenyans living with HIV, including pregnant mothers and children. The situation had degenerated to the point that adults were sharing drugs with their children.

A senior official at the National Aids and STI Control programme who sought anonymity told The Standard the agreement was arrived at last week after “a meeting with the ministry, USAid representative, and Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (Kemsa)”.

Of the Sh1.2 billion consignment, USAid handed over Sh810 million worth of ARVs for dispatch to respective counties, according to the source who added that “at least 500,000 packets of $15 (Sh1,620) each was handed over to the Kenyan government for distribution”.

The supplies handed over is a consignment of Tenofovir, Lamivudine and Dalutegravir (TLD) and “despite wrangles that were witnessed, we are happy that patients will be able to refill their stock and reduce risk of deaths and infections,” said the official, adding “we are happy that patients will be able to continue with treatment”.

The drugs were shipped to the country in January this year without the involvement of Kemsa as per the procurement procedure.

Failure to involve Kemsa deepened the controversy, attracting railway levy and Impact Declaration Form C import fee by the government.

According to Kenya Revenue Authority taxation document, the ministry paid a total of Sh45.8 million tax for the consignment.

USAid insisted on having oversight in distribution of the drugs, through Chemonics International, which it had contracted for transparency purposes after Kemsa was accused of multiple allegations of corruption.

But in April, Health CS Mutahi Kagwe told the Senate “Kenya blocked the consignment at Mombasa port and demanded taxes because the shipment was imported without the ministry’s involvement”. 

Pharmaceutical Society of Kenya CEO Daniella Munene told The Standard that procurement for ARV rules dictate that any donation to the State be shipped through a State organisation, in this case Kemsa, and without its involvement, such consignments attract normal duty as it is treated as a private import.

“Normally, the donor signs an agreement with the State on the medicine and its value. The consignee (Kemsa) imports and distributes to hospitals across the country,” explained Munene, adding that though the government allocates a budget to procure ARVs, the bulk of support is from global donors with USAid as the biggest player.

Interventions for malaria, TB and HIV under the 2021/22 financial budget was allocated Sh17.31 billion from the Global Fund.

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