The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has registered its biggest victory yet in the ongoing standoff with the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) over distribution of HIV drugs, after the government sent home the entire board of the national drugs agency.
The revocation of the Kemsa board's appointment came barely hours after President Uhuru Kenyatta met the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, who expressed concern over lack of accountability at Kemsa.
"We have an obligation to our own taxpayers when we're spending their money to do it in a way that is accountable and fully transparent," said Mr Blinken on Tuesday in reference to the corruption concerns at Kemsa.
USAID has held back a consignment of drugs intended for HIV positive patients, insisting that it did not wish to use the Kemsa infrastructure to distribute them.
Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe yesterday fired the entire Kemsa board, and replaced it with a new one following claims of corruption, inefficiency, rot and uproar from Kenyans and donors.
The agency board's marching orders are expected to thaw the frosty relationship between the Ministry of Health and USAID over the procurement and distribution of anti-retroviral drugs.
It was one of the demands by the US aid agency before it could release ARV donations amounting to Sh1.2 billion held at the Port for the past three months.
CS Kagwe earlier in the week admitted that corruption allegations were behind the Kemsa, USAID standoff.
He said the government would reform the agency to bring back confidence and trust it has lost due to the scandals.
During a round table virtual meeting attended by journalists from Kenya and Nigeria on Tuesday, the United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US was very concerned about corruption at Kemsa.
The former Kemsa board chairperson, Kembi Gitura, was in March appointed the Communications Authority chairperson effective April 18.
Mary Chao Mwadime is the new Kemsa board chair, expected to lead the agency for three years effective today, April 30, 2021.
Besides the appointment of a new board chairperson, the Health CS appointed Lawrence Wahome, Robert Nyarango, Terry Kiunge Ramadhani and Linton Nyaga Kinyua as members of the board for three years effective today.
"The appointments of Timothy Mwololo Waema, Bibiana K Njue, Joel Onsare Gesuka and Dorothy Atieno Aywak are revoked," stated Mr Kagwe in a gazette notice dated April 28, 2021.
Kemsa is under investigation for suspicious and irregular tender deals amounting up to Sh7.6 billion. The agency came into sharp focus in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic after it emerged that it procured Covid-19 commodities irregularly, with Members of Parliament blaming the board for failing to oversee undertakings at the agency.
The claims consequently causing the USAID to withhold ARV donations that previously had been distributed through the drugs agency.
Since September 2015, the two institutions have had contract for procurement, warehousing and distribution of donations to Kenya.
With USAID pushing to distribute ARVs still held at the port through a privately-owned American firm, Chemonics, which it engaged to procure and import consignments on its behalf, it is clear the US was not keen on working with Kemsa.
The agency indicated that unless the system at the drugs agency was restructured, it would continue to engage the services of a third party going into the future.
But the Ministry of Health divulged that it was not comfortable with the arrangement, saying it did not know Chemonics and that the USAID did not introduce it before it could be involved in the importation and distribution of the ARVs and other medical supplies.
Earlier this week, Mr Kagwe said the government was in talks with the US Embassy to unlock the tiff that has left many people living with HIV fearing for their lives due to shortage of the drugs.
"We had no problem with USAID bringing the drugs itself, the problem arose when we were introduced, without any prior information, to a company by the name Chemonics.
"We do not know Chemonics, we never knew who they were until we were told to go and take our goods from them," he said.
From the insistence of the US agency, he said MoH put together a joint committee comprised of officials from the government and the aid body to resolve the issue.
"This is a discussion that is ongoing, we agreed with the American Embassy that we are going to put together a joint committee to discuss this matter and come up with an amicable solution," he said, adding that there was a consensus to restructure Kemsa "to make sure that it has no questions" and that it is efficient as it was.
"They have given us technical support and we have some of their people who are going to be working with us; we are very grateful," he said.
Kemsa is also on the spot for supplying HIV drugs that had been phased out in the country.
In addition, there are allegations that are being investigated that drugs being donated to the country by USAID find their way into the private chemists' shelves.
The USAID is also conducting an investigation to find out whether its staff have been colluding with Kemsa to sell the drug donations to some private pharmacies in the country.
"What we talked about today was making sure that as Kemsa was being reformed, nothing fell through the cracks, we have the ability together to make sure that our assistance continues uninterrupted so that people in need of what we're providing do not go without it," Mr Blinken said on Tuesday
He added that the US and the Government of Kenya will work together "very closely" to make sure that medical aid continues uninterrupted.