A biting shortage of drugs in various county hospitals has left Kenyans exposed, with most of them having to incur the extra cost of buying them at private facilities.
The drug shortage, the Saturday Nation has learnt, is largely due to a decision by the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (Kemsa) to stop supplies to counties that still owe them money.
By June, counties owed Kemsa Sh2.3 billion, with Nairobi having the highest debt at Sh235 million, followed by Narok with Sh104 million.
And, even after Nairobi County paid Sh58 million to Kemsa, Governor Mike Sonko said on Thursday that the agency had still not supplied the drugs, prompting action from the ministry.
“I direct Kemsa to start supplying medicine to all Nairobi hospitals as the governor and his team sits down with Kemsa to see how the pending bills will be settled,” Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki said during the launch of the World Breastfeeding Week at Pumwani Hospital, opening the floodgates for similar demands from other counties.
Mr Sonko yesterday said his team was working on an agreement with Kemsa to supply much-needed drugs.
“I acknowledge that there has been a shortage of medicine and I have taken action to ensure that this comes to an end. We have settled part of debt,” he said.
In Homa Bay, officials said that Kemsa had stopped distributing drugs including the vital anti-retroviral medicines until the Sh140 million the county owed was paid up.
"No drugs, including ARVs, have reached any hospital for eight months now. The national government issues the drugs free of charge. However, KEMSA must be paid to do the deliveries," Maurice Ogwang', chairman of the Health Committee, said in a report tabled in the county assembly.
Homa Bay County had tried in June to settle part of the bill but Kemsa reportedly refused the Sh60 million partial payment, MCAs say. The situation has put at risk HIV positive patients in an area where the prevalence rate of the disease is very high at more than 20 per cent.
The report further revealed several loopholes in the health department including stalled machines and vehicles, understaffing, poor nutrition, lack of clean water, dirty and torn beddings, and power disconnections among other challenges, which hinder service delivery.
The MCAs recommended that the officials in the county health and financial departments be suspended pending investigations. Patients at public health facilities in Kisii and Nyamira have been forced to buy drugs from private chemists.
Mr John Monari said he was forced to buy saline water for a patient he was attending to at the Kisii Teaching and Referral Hospital. “Not even a panadol is available in that hospital. We need quick intervention,” he said.
At the Nyamira Level 5 hospital, the problem of drug shortage has been worsened by a two-month long strike by medics. Though County Health Executive, Mr Douglas Bosire, says they have tried to manage the situation by deploying more medics on contractual basis, locals say the situation is dire and needs urgent attention.
Kisii governor James Ongwae and his Nyamira counterpart John Nyagarama have in the past attributed the shortage to delays in disbursement of funds by the National Treasury.