US funds freeze to hit life-saving services

US decision comes just seven months after the Business Daily reported a multi-billion shilling scandal at the ministry. PHOTO | BD GRAPHIC
US decision comes just seven months after the Business Daily reported a multi-billion shilling scandal at the ministry. PHOTO | BD GRAPHIC 

The United States government has frozen its funding of key Ministry of Health programmes, signalling a possible withdrawal of some life-saving services dependent on donor funds.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAid) said in a statement on Monday evening that it had indefinitely suspended its funding of Afya House programmes.

USAid did not initially offer any explanation for its action. But the US ambassador to Kenya, Robert Godec, later explained that the decision was linked to massive wastage and theft of funds at Afya House — including donor funds.

“We took this step because of ongoing concerns about reports of corruption and weak accounting procedures at the ministry,” Mr Godec said, adding that the action is intended “to ensure that healthcare spending reaches those in need, and to protect US taxpayers’ money.”

The decision came only seven months after the Business Daily reported a multi-billion shilling scandal at the ministry.

An internal audit of the ministry’s finances revealed that top officials had inflated prices of medicine and equipment, forged entries in the Integrated Financial Management System, diverted funds and irregularly awarded contracts to relatives of powerful politicians, causing heavy losses to the taxpayers.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government dismissed the reports as false and has since held no one to account for the massive theft of public funds and associated criminal activities such as tax evasion.

USAid has been a key financier of basic healthcare programmes such the prevention and treatment of malaria and maternal health, and the withdrawal of funding is expected to significantly affect availability and quality of these services.

The US agency has also partnered with Afya House in financing and supporting technical working groups, co-ordination committees and steering committees that are key to execution of the programmes.

"No reimbursement"

USAid warned that “any activities conducted with the Ministry of Health during the period of suspension will not be reimbursed by the US government.” 

Withdrawal of the support means that hundreds staff working on USAid-backed programmes could go without salaries and wages besides paralysing procurement of supplies and equipment that the ministry has been buying with the support of the American agency.

Sources close to USAid said the suspended programmes were expected to benefit from a Sh2.1 billion support, including the funding of the Walter Reed Programme and Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

All costs for management and operations at the ministry, domestic and international travel for attendance of conferences and conventions are also frozen.

Mr Godec said funding of the programmes would resume “when appropriate progress is made.”

USAid had in the notice dated May 8 and signed by its Kenya and East Africa contracting officer, Brian Woody, that the suspension impacts all Ministry of Health departments “until such a time specific conditions have been met”.

Mr Woody said USAid would hold an information session in Nairobi this morning to clarify issues relating to the suspension notice.

HIV programmes spared

The suspension of USAid support also means salaries of all Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) and the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) staff have been affected. 

However, key programmes such as procurement of commodities and equipment related to life-saving prevention, treatment such as antiretroviral drugs for HIV/Aids patients, and support to Kenya during disease outbreaks or emergency response have, however, been spared the funds freeze.

Activities that directly strengthen county health systems, surveillance and service delivery have also been spared.

Some of the USAID programmes spread across the country include Tuberculosis Accelerated Response and Care; Health, Population and Nutrition Activity Fact Sheets Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare (AMPATH), APHIAplus (AIDS, Population and Health Integrated Assistance), and Applying Science to Strengthen and Improve Systems (ASSIST).

USAid’s HIV care and support programme has been focusing on palliative care, orphans and vulnerable children, nutrition, home-based care and TB/HIV services.

The agency has been largely supporting maternal health programmes in areas grappling with high prevalence of HIV/Aids and malaria.

Health secretary Cleopa Mailu yesterday sought to assure the public that the ministry was addressing matters raised in an internal audit report that was leaked last October, revealing massive theft and wastage of public funds.

“We wish to assure our development partners and Kenyans of our commitment to prudent financial management and accountability of the resources placed under our stewardship,” said Dr Mailu.

He said that the Kenya National Audit Office and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission were independently investigating the scandal and that the outcomes of their probe would inform further action.