UHC programme hits a snag as drugs run out in pilot counties

Tuesday September 03 2019

The much-hyped Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is in limbo after the four counties in which it was being piloted were hit by drug shortages.

The Ministry of Health’s approach to achieving UHC has been through removing charges at all public facilities, including level four and five facilities, and ensuring commodity security through the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa).


But a spot check at the facilities in the counties revealed that basic drugs, including piriton, are out of stock. Also missing were oncology products, renal dialysis drugs, and reagents, among other items.

At the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital in Kisumu town, patients were told to look for drugs elsewhere.

Ms Brenda Awuor, who is undergoing chemotherapy at the facility, was given a prescription to buy drugs from a pharmacy in town to enable her to undergo treatment.


“I have been paying Sh1800 for this drugs for the past two months yet I was made to understand that healthcare would be cheaper with UHC,” she says.

In Nyeri County, Ms Margaret Wambui, who suffers from hypertension and diabetes, takes three types of drugs which range between Sh50 and 65 per tablet.

But they are neither covered by the National Health Insurance Fund nor available in government hospitals, so she has to buy them from private chemists.

“It is very unfair that what Kenyans are getting from UHC kitty is not what they were promised. If you walk into any public hospital, you will not find any drugs.


‘‘They are too expensive to buy from our little, hard-earned money,” she said.

She adds: “Last week, I was told to wait for the drugs to be delivered. How do I wait yet I am dying honestly.”

Kemsa CEO Jonah Mwangi, said there was a small budgetary issue, but that they have since released the drugs to the counties after an agreement with the Ministry of Health.

He said the drugs for Kisumu were released on Tuesday while those for Nyeri County were released last Friday.

But the situation on the ground told a different story, with patients forced to buy drugs from their own pockets. Those who cannot afford to were told to wait for the UHC drugs to be dispatched.

The government is yet to release Sh951 million for the third quarter of the UHC programme for pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceuticals supplies to Kemsa. The money was to be released at the beginning of July. 

Nyeri and Kisumu counties had placed orders worth Sh97 million and Sh96 million respectively.


Bureaucracy makes it difficult for counties to get the drugs on time. For instance, after the piloting counties place an order, it has to be approved by the Health Cabinet Secretary, which can take a while.

“The order might delay due to approval processes. For instance, for the four piloting counties, the orders have to be approved by the Ministry of Health so that they do not exceed their allocation,” Dr Mwangi said, adding that the orders for the remaining 43 counties are processed much faster. for other remaining 43 counties,

The Nation has also learnt that that the UHC card cannot buy Kenyans all the drugs they need.

However, many Kenyans believe that once you register and get the UHC card, you can walk to any public hospital in the four piloting counties and get drugs for free, regardless of what it treats.