Kenya is staring at a possible public health crisis after MPs rejected the National Treasury’s proposal to allocate Sh1.5 billion for purchase of Covid-19 testing kits and chemical reagents, holding back tests for coronavirus.
Lawmakers last week rejected allocations of the money to the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa), arguing that the State agency was under investigations by the anti-graft agency for buying substandard reagents and personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers.
The rejection comes as Kenya struggles with unprocessed tests due to effects of shortages caused by a worldwide race to acquire testing kits and slow allocation of money to tackle the pandemic.
Lawmakers expressed anger at the Treasury’s bid to divert part of the Sh3 billion allocation set aside for three national referral hospitals and select county referral hospitals for Covid-19 to Kemsa in breach of Parliament’s directive to ring-fence the funding for the facilities. The House rejected the Treasury’s decision to divert Sh1.5 billion out of the Sh3 billion that MPs had ring-fenced in April to fight the pandemic.
The Budget and Appropriations Committee (BAC) also shot down the Treasury’s attempt to move Sh700 million from the funds dedicated to the hospitals to the Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC), which is currently being used as an isolation centre for Covid-19 patients.
MPs further rejected the Treasury’s attempt to move Sh300 million from the allocation to hospitals for the purchase and supply of face masks to vulnerable groups. “That this House reject the reallocation of ring-fenced funds including those affecting the Ministry of Health,” Moses Lessonet, the vice chairperson of BAC said while initiating debate on the Treasury’s third supplementary budget for the financial year ending tomorrow (Tuesday). The MPs backed the committee‘s resolutions as Kenya scrambles for more resources to ramp up diagnostic testing to better understand where the coronavirus is spreading and how to stop outbreaks. This is critical as the country prepares in coming days to ease restrictions imposed to curb Covid-19 such as the night curfew and the halting of movements in three countries hit most by the virus, including Nairobi and Mombasa.
The World Health Organisation has said countries should consider their ability to test and trace before lifting the lockdowns. Last week, the Treasury last week tabled a Sh11.3 billion mini-budget seven days to the end of the current financial year that ends tomorrow. Besides the Sh1.5 billion for the testing kits, the mini-budget includes Sh5.8 billion sent to 47 counties to prepare a 300-bed capacity at each devolved unit in readiness to handle Covid-19 patients and a further Sh3.4 billion for payment of allowances to frontline health workers.
“We rejected the reallocation of Sh3 billion because we had ring-fenced it to specific hospitals. This money was part of the budget of Parliament, which we were magnanimous to cede to help hospitals respond to the pandemic,” John Mbadi, the Leader of Minority in the National Assembly, said. “Then someone wakes up at the Treasury and decides to relocate the money to KMTC and Kemsa for isolation facilities and procurement of reagents and testing kits in total disregard of resolution of this House.” He said money for testing kits and reagents should have been factored in the April mini-budget after the outbreak of Covid-19 in March.
Kenya is trailing countries like South Africa on testing with about 165,196 tests that had recorded 6,070 positive cases. South Africa, Africa’s biggest economy, has nearly 1.4 million tests and recorded more 104,000 positive cases.
Smaller and poorer nations like Rwanda and Uganda have a better testing rate than Kenya’s. Rwanda has carried out the equivalent of 9.38 tests for every 1,000 people as at last week, South Africa had done 24.6, Ghana 9.11 and Uganda 3.36, contrasting with Kenya’s 2.82 test per 1,000 people.
According to government officials, a global shortage of testing supplies has affected the country’s ability to conduct tests.
Kenya’s Health ministry had projected that the country would have about 10,000 cases by the end of May. This modelling used several parameters, one being testing 200,000 to 300,000 people by April 30.
Getting hold of kits and the chemical reagents needed to process tests is proving difficult because African countries don’t produce their own and need to compete for limited global supplies.
The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention is setting up a platform for African countries to pool their pandemic-related medical procurement to ease the pain of obtaining testing materials.
MPs rejected a petition from the National Assembly committee to support the Treasury‘s proposals.
Health committee chairperson Sabina Chege said the Ministry of Heath had pleaded that Sh2 billion out of the ring-fenced cash be allocated for purchase of reagents and testing kits; Sh700 million to KMTC isolation centres and Sh300 million for purchase of face masks.
“I am pleading with the Budget committee that if there is a way to get Sh700 million to KMTC, it will be good because KMTC, which is being used for quarantine, will be left with debt.