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Kemsa in a spot over free HIV medicines fraud

Sulfran-DS 960mg tablets, recommended for people living with HIV. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG
Sulfran-DS 960mg tablets, recommended for people living with HIV. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG 

Rent-seeking government officials and corrupt businessmen are diverting donor-funded free HIV medication for sale in the black market, denying poor Kenyans access to the life-saving drugs, a Business Daily investigation has revealed.

Essential medicines, including antibiotics procured with the help of American aid agency USAid and specifically meant for distribution by the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (Kemsa), are some of the drugs that are illegally being sold in the market.

A sulfur-based antibiotic called Sulfran-DS, mostly used to prevent opportunistic infections like pneumonia and urinary tract infections in patients whose immune systems have been compromised, is being sold at Sh120 per a pack of 100 tablets in Nairobi.

This is despite bearing the “USAid/Kemsa Not for Resale” warning that comes with every pack. In Kenya as in many African countries, USAid runs a programme that supplies the expensive medication to HIV patients at no cost.

Sulfran-DS is a generic brand antibiotic that is locally manufactured by Universal Corporation and is registered in Kenya, Zambia, Ivory Coast, Malawi and Uganda.

The Business Daily bought the identified drugs from a pharmacy at Odeon in the Nairobi CBD. The owner said he had received a text message notification about availability of the consignment of drugs from one Rosan Agencies.

Patients are tempted to buy “Not for Sale” drugs because they are normally cheaper and easier to get unlike the official channels of distribution that require vetting and prescription of the right doses based on the CD4 count, a process that many users find tedious.

Universal Corporation managing director Palu Dhanani said the consignment of drugs that left the company for distribution was sent to Kemsa.

“Kemsa should explain this pilferage. The particular batch number was supplied only to Kemsa and was delivered in January. If someone buys this, they are in trouble,” said Mr Dhanani, adding that USAid paid for 4,776 packets of 100 tablets each at a special price of Sh170.

Background checks found that Rosan Agencies is a briefcase pharmaceutical supplier that is not registered by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB), the industry regulator.

The samples of drugs bought during this investigation, among them other banned products like Nise (Nimesulide), and payment done through M-Pesa identified one John Rosanah as the supplier.

Nise, a common fever and pain drug, was banned in India and the world in 2008 for exposing patients to fatal liver damage but is apparently still available in Kenya. The drug has never been approved for use in countries like the US, the UK, Canada, Australia New Zealand and Japan due to safety concerns.

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