KENYA – The Health Ministry of Kenya has opposed plans to scrap Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (KEMSA) of exclusive rights to sell drugs and medical kits to county and national health facilities.

The ministry argued that permitting counties to bypass KEMSA would lead to expensive drugs from private pharmaceutical firms and derail the attainment of Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

Its monopoly to import medical drugs into Kenya is vital as it ensures quality control, better prices through bulk purchase and guarantees availability of stocks.

Additionally, suppliers could make huge windfall profits supplying counties with cheap counterfeit drugs leading to quality deterioration.

KEMSA is a specialized medical logistics provider for public health facilities and programmes under the Kenya’s Ministry of Health whose mandate is to procure, warehouse and distribute medical supplies.

The law currently requires counties to procure medical supplies from the authority as the first point of call thus the amended bill seeks to give counties a free hand in choosing suppliers for drugs and medical kits for their hospitals.

The proposed amendment would also allow counties to procure their own drugs at lower competitive rates than KEMSA offers.

Hence, the opposition to the bill aims to protect the state agency from losing the lucrative business it gets from the devolved units which are its single largest customer cluster.

KEMSA should remain as the first point of call for procurement, warehousing and distribution of Health Products and Technologies (HPTs) listed in relevant essential lists at the county referral hospital,” Health Principal Secretary Susan Mochache told the Senate Committee on Health.

PS Mochache urged that the lawmakers should instead change the law to ring-fence county allocations to pay debts owed to the state agency.

The counties owed KEMSA KSh2.64B (US$23.22M) in June 2019 while the Ministry of Health owed KEMSA KSh5.28B (US$46.46M),” reported the Auditor-General.

Meanwhile, the government embarked on the devolution of health financing to the counties last year to ensure that services are delivered effectively and efficiently to communities.

The devolution has however resulted in a significant change in the way KEMSA receives funds to carry out its activities due to bureaucracy in the distribution of the drugs.

For instance, counties have recently blamed the agency for receiving drugs nearing expiry as well as shortage of drugs and kits at their hospitals.

The proposed bill comes after the authority was hit by a COVID-19 procurement scandal prompting President Uhuru Kenyatta to disband its top management.

President Kenyatta in last November appointed The Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) and National Youth Service (NYS) to run the agency setting the stage for declaring redundancies or terminating the services of more than 900 staff.

The restructuring comes as the State agency grapples with lack of financial controls, uncollected debts, supply chain crisis, distribution problems, deadstock and purchase of non-priority items.

Despite these challenges, the authority has stepped up efforts to ease the supply hitches facing counties after it unveiled four distribution centers in Nairobi, Kisumu, Mombasa and Meru.

The distribution hubs will be used as the dispatch centers for drugs and medical equipment to all public hospitals in the counties.

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