USAid probes theft, sale of free HIV drugs

Containers of ARVs. FILE PHOTO | SARAH OOKO | NMG  

American aid agency USAid has started a probe on how HIV-related medication is being stolen from government facilities for sale in the black market, denying poor Kenyans access to the life-saving drugs.

A Business Daily investigation revealed that rent-seeking government officials and corrupt businessmen are diverting donor-funded medicines for profits in the private sector.

The medicines including antibiotics procured with the help of 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.

On Tuesday, a top USAid official said they have opened investigations and warned those responsible for the illicit sale will be punished.

“All medicine donated by USAid in Kenya is distributed free of charge, and is not for sale in the retail market.

We take allegations of misuse or misappropriation very seriously,” said Kimberly Case, USAid Senior Regional Development Outreach and Communications Advisor for Kenya and East Africa in a statement.

“We investigate all such reports and, working with the Kenyan government, take action to stop any inappropriate or illegal activity and to hold those responsible accountable.”

The USAid has started a review of all medicines funded by America’s taxpayers and channeled via Kemsa.

The probe comes barely two months after the US government froze its funding to key Ministry of Health programmes due to reports of corruption and lack of accountability.

A sulfur-based antibiotic called Sulfran-DS, mostly used to prevent opportunistic diseases like pneumonia and urinary tract infections in patients whose immune systems have been compromised, is among those illegally 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 on every pack. In Kenya, as in many African countries, USAid runs a programme that supplies the expensive medication to HIV patients at no cost.

Microlut, another “not for sale” product by Bayer – a German pharmaceutical company, was also among the samples bought by Business Daily at Sh90 (a triple pack of 35 tablets) from a chemist in Nairobi’s CBD.

Microlut, a birth control pill, is only available in Kenya through donor-funding and procured directly from Berlin, Germany for free distribution in government and not-for profit health facilities.

The Nairobi chemist owner said he bought the consignment from the same supplier of illegal Sulfran-DS, Rosan Agencies, a briefcase trader in pharmaceutical products including medicines.