Global Fund: Shame of reaping from the sick and dying

Sunday January 11 2009

By ZACHARY OCHIENG

ALMOST THREE MONTHS HAVE elapsed since the Government appointed a taskforce to trace the missing Sh13 billion grant from the Global Fund to fight Aids, tuberculosis and malaria.

Whereas the taskforce has completed its work, its report has never been made public.

But to keen observers, the appointment of the taskforce was mere window dressing since Public Health minister Beth Mugo said Dr Hezron Nyangito, the former Health permanent secretary, and Mrs Charity Ngilu, the former Health minister, would not be questioned.

And in a move that bordered on defending her predecessors and pre-empting the findings of the taskforce, Mrs Mugo, upon her return from a meeting in Geneva with the Fund officials, pompously announced that no funds were misappropriated after all, despite her Medical Services counterpart Anyang’ Nyong’o’s and her own earlier admission that the money had been stolen.

PERHAPS IN THEIR PREPOSTEROUS belief that Kenyans are such a forgetful lot, the two ministers that owe Kenyans an explanation over the Global Fund’s saga have resumed business as usual.

The embezzlement of donor and taxpayers’ money is not new in Kenya. Over the years, the Controller and Auditor-General as well as the Public Accounts Committee have churned out reports implicating senior Government officials in graft and misappropriation of funds.

But the best that the appointing authority has ever done is to transfer the culprits to other ministries or departments where they shamelessly carry on with their looting sprees.

Last year, Sh19.3 million disappeared from the joint Kenya Medical Research Institute/US Centres for Disease Control bank account in Kisumu.

Beyond the suspension of its director, Dr Davy Koech, nothing much has been heard of the matter, nor has anybody been prosecuted. And only last month, Kemri’s entire pension fund amounting to Sh 537 million went missing.

Again, nothing has been done to bring the culprits to book.

With regards to the Global Fund, concerned citizens should not keep quiet when Government officials extend their insatiable greed to funds that should ameliorate the suffering of the sick.

Already, the announcement from the Global Fund that Kenya will not receive Sh24 billion for Round Eight is sending chills down the spines of thousands of the beneficiaries.

Although the two Health ministers would like us to believe that there is some Sh14 billion to take care of the situation until 2010, they are not saying what will happen when that money runs out.

The harsh reality is that 230,000 odd people living with HIV and Aids and who are on life-saving anti-retroviral therapy will miss the treatment, thereby reversing any gains made towards their leading normal, healthy lives.

Still others who rely on feeding programmes such as those offered by the Kenya Network of Women with Aids (Kenwa) will miss their nutritional supplements that are critical in boosting their immune systems.

The suspension of funds will also reverse the gains made in the prevention of malaria, which kills about 16,000 people in the country annually.

It may be recalled that since the introduction of Artemisinin-based Combination Therapy (ACT) as the first-line treatment against malaria, the cost of treatment shot way beyond the reach of most ordinary Kenyans.

The situation will even be more critical for TB patients since missing even a single dose leads to resistance against first-line drug regimens.

IF THE TREATMENT OF TB, THE LEADING killer of Aids patients, is interrupted, the consequences will be too grave to contemplate.

But even before investigations are instituted, it is imperative that the Government comes out clearly on which among the two Health ministries is responsible for the management of the Global Fund.

The conflicting statements coming from the two ministers only worsened an already bad situation. Whereas Prof Nyongo’ claimed no application would be submitted for Round 9, whose deadline is January 21, until the matter of the missing funds had been resolved, Mrs Mugo insisted the Government would apply, after all.

Mr Ochieng is the managing editor of ‘The Big Issue Kenya’.