Kenya will restructure its medical procurement department after the U.S. snubbed the unit while procuring donations of antiretroviral drugs, resulting in shortages for 1.4 million people living with HIV/AIDS.
The East African government will reinforce operational systems and address allegations of corruption at the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority, or KEMSA, to ensure the agency can continue to handle consignments from the U.S. Agency for International Development, Health Secretary Mutahi Kagwe told the National Assembly’s health committee on Wednesday.
“We are working with donor partners to see how best to restructure the institution,” Kagwe said. “Hopefully this is something we’re going to finalize as quickly as possible and you will begin to see movement in these areas in the next few days.”
The Kenyan agency was accused last year of graft in distributing contracts for the supply of protective equipment and test kits for the nation’s Covid-19 response.
USAID, the largest donor for Kenya’s HIV/AIDS program, procured drugs through a private firm because it didn’t trust KEMSA, Kagwe said.
Kenya blocked the consignment at Mombasa port and demanded taxes because the shipment was imported “without the ministry’s prior knowledge, and outside of the agreed framework,” Kagwe said, forcing many to go without the life-prolonging tablets.
“Donated commodities are not subject to taxes or fees,” A USAID spokesperson said by email before Kagwe told lawmakers that the shipment impasse was resolved.
“The U.S. government is committed to ensuring that life-saving commodities are available to ensure that Kenyans relying on critical HIV or malaria medicines continue to receive them without interruption.”
USAID didn’t comment on the handling of consignments, either by KEMSA or a private company.
Skipping doses can lead to drug resistance and death.
About 1.4 million patients are on antiretroviral drugs, compared with about 363,400 when the program began in 2009, according to KEMSA.
Kenya is working with the U.S. agency to ensure that all patients receive their medication by end of this week.