Kenyans are staring at a health crisis after it was revealed that hospitals have been operating without a number of essential medicines.
The country could be facing a nationwide shortage of drugs following a new government directive accompanied by rules that have made importation of pharmaceutical products difficult.
Pharmaceutical firms that import and distribute the drugs have decried the directive, saying it has made the cost of doing business in the country costly and problematic.
The companies have warned that not only will the delays plunge Kenya into a crisis, but it will also raise the cost of drugs.
Some essential drugs, including cancer, painkillers, diabetes, hypertension, epilepsy, stomach ulcers, and even malaria drugs have already run out.
"You can imagine a situation where even drugs for treating mental disorders are missing," said an importer who sought not to be named for fear of being victimised.
Kenya has been grappling with recurrent scarcity of medicines, vaccines, and pharmaceutical products.
For instance in February, two private facilities could not offer dialysis services to patients after dialysis kits were depleted. In July, there was a shortage vital vaccines as well as anti-retroviral drugs.
In a letter to Industry, Trade and Cooperatives Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya, representatives of about 35 pharmaceutical companies have request the government to exempt the importers from pre-shipment inspections, arguing that the Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB) is already conducting the checks.
"While we are cognisant of the fact that it is necessary to streamline and put into place measures and operations to ensure compliance to consumer safety and customs provisions in line with the Big Four agenda, the new systems being put in place have resulted in unintended negative consequences with potential to jeopardise sustained access to healthcare products," said Dr Anastasia Nyalita, chairperson of Kenya Association of Pharmaceutical Industries (Kapi).
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua said in a June 4 circular that the new rules are meant "to improve the cost of doing business and efficiency at ports of entry".
He added that the rules are meant ensure that goods coming into the country adhere to regulatory requirements and conform to quality standards.
But pharmaceutical firms have said the government neither consulted them nor prepared the industry for the new changes. As such, some companies have their shipments stuck in manufacturer's warehouses, Surgipharm Limited Managing Director Vijai Maini said.
He insisted that they were not opposing the new directive, but want the system streamlined.
"...the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kemsa) shall be the lead agency for the purpose of coordinating inspection of goods at the country of origin and the issuance of enriched Certificate of Conformity," he said.
"To address the inefficiencies in the critical processes and factors contributing to increased processing time and costs, the government therefore directs," the circular reads.
But pharmaceutical companies have said that the government neither consulted them nor prepared the industry for the new changes.
As such, some companies have their shipments stuck in manufacturer's warehouses.
"We have orders in the pipeline which cannot be dispatched from the manufacturer's warehouses because of delays caused by this new rule," Surgipharm limited managing director Vijai Maini said, adding that available stock is fast getting depleted.
Dr Maini insisted that they were not opposing the new directive but want the system streamlined.