KEMSA's Year-Long Woes Piled Upon By New Scandal

Earlier on Thursday, April 29, President Uhuru Kenyatta made an executive order that turned the agency upside down by appointing five new members.

KEMSA's Year-Long Woes Piled Upon By New Scandal

The Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (KEMSA) is in the eye of yet another storm in form of a scandal that involved a consignment of toxic antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to Kenyans.

Earlier on Thursday, April 29, President Uhuru Kenyatta made an executive order that turned the agency upside down by appointing five new members.

Mary Chao Mwadime was appointed as the new Chairperson, barely a month after Uhuru shifted former KEMSA chair James Kembi Gitura to the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) board as investigations into graft at the medical supplies authority heat up.

The National Assembly’s Public Investments Committee (PIC) opposed Gitura’s appointment at the Communications Authority, accusing Uhuru of ignoring Parliament and warning that they would consider recommendations that he would be blocked from holding public office if found culpable.

"The right way is to make recommendations to say that the officer (Gitura) is not fit to hold public office. It is frustrating to us and Kenyans to see what has happened with that appointment. We will make our recommendations,” PIC chairman Abdulswamad Nassir said.

Also newly appointed to the KEMSA board are Capt. (Rtd) Lawrence Wahome, Robert Nyarango, Terry Kiunge Ramadhani and Linton Nyaga Kinyua.

They will replace Timothy Waema, Bibiana Njue and Dorothy Aywak whose appointments were revoked.

The move follows a year in which KEMSA suffered major reputational damage as it was smack in the middle of multiple allegations including procurement mega-scandals at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic that cost taxpayers at least Ksh7.8 billion.

KEMSA has also been at the centre of a stand-off between the government and USAID over the stalled distribution of donated ARVs, which has left Kenyans living with HIV crying painfully.

The drugs, Zidovudine/Lamivudine/Nevirapine, which were phased out a year ago due to their adverse effects on patients, were on Thursday, April 29 flagged off to 31 counties.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe confirmed that the authority is under investigation over the allegations, but had promised to issue a statement once investigations are complete.

“We cannot talk on the matter, we are investigating the issue and we will find a solution,” Kagwe said.

CS Kagwe assured Kenyans there are enough ARVs in KEMSA's warehouse for distribution and disbursement, which is currently ongoing. This is despite reports that the HIV patients are suffering, only getting a week's supply of the drugs unlike in the past where they would be given enough pills to last them six months.

A report by a local daily claimed that KEMSA had distributed toxic ARVs amid the reported depletion of the drugs in the country amidst a government standoff with donors.

Daily Nation indicated in a report that KEMSA flagged off a consignment of ARVs worth Ksh1.2 billion to 31 counties. The drugs were from an old stock donated by the Global Fund and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and had been held at the warehouse for months.

In a meeting held with stakeholders in March 2020, KEMSA indicated that it had destroyed packages of the drugs and that they were no longer in stock.

Some users of the drugs have however warned that the move by the government is dangerous as some of the drugs are toxic.

“We are surprised that the drugs are still in the warehouse after we were informed that they had been destroyed. It is better to wait for the right drugs than taking toxic drugs,” said Nelson Otwoma, national coordinator, National Empowerment Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS.

He said their release was tantamount to the government playing with people’s lives like puppets on a string.

“Where are they taking phased out drugs, they think we are not aware of what we are taking? Why have they been keeping the drugs?” Otwoma posed.

Meanwhile the US Secretary of State, Anthony J Blinken, made clear the United States’ fears of corruption at KEMSA as he sought to explain the stand-off that has seen a shipment of ARVs stuck at the Port of Mombasa.

The US thus wants distribution of the drugs to be done through a private American firm, Chemonics International, while the government affirms that only KEMSA should be responsible for supply of the drugs.

Blinken had disclosed in an interview on Wednesday, April 28 that his virtual meetings with Kenyan government officials were focused on reforms at KEMSA.

“We have had an issue with KEMSA, the institution responsible for the distribution, and as you know very well, concerns in particular about corruption that I know the government is working to reform. We have an obligation to our own taxpayers when we’re spending their money to do it in a way that is accountable and fully transparent.

“What we talked about today was making sure that as KEMSA was being reformed and nothing fell through the cracks, that we had the ability together to make sure that our assistance continued uninterrupted, so that people in need of what we’re providing didn’t go without it and I think that we’re going to work very closely together to make sure that happens,” he stated.