The United States is considering moving the antiretroviral drugs that have been stuck at the Port of Mombasa for close to four months to another country, a move that could deal a blow to patients who have been waiting for the medicines.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAid) cited the remaining shelf-life of the drugs and the storage charges accruing, stating that already, it amounts to a total of more than one-quarter of the cost, as some of the factors they are looking at.
Responding to the Nation's questions, the US Embassy said the donation of the antiretroviral (ARV) medications has not received the necessary clearances from the Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB) for them to be released from customs-bonded warehouses at the port.
"We can tell you that medicines and equipment that arrived as a donation from the people of the United States to the people of Kenya through USAid are exempted from taxes based on agreements between our governments.
"The fact that the Government of Kenya initially attempted to apply a tax to this donation and then resolved the problem internally is not what caused the [problem] at the port, which continues today," the embassy Clearance permit in a statement.
It added: "Without proper clearances, the medicines cannot be distributed to the people of Kenya."
The embassy indicated that if the consignment is cleared, then it will be moved to a USAid-contracted warehouse in Nairobi and will be prepared for disbursement once the government permits the US to distribute the medicines through appropriate mechanisms.
"If the clearances do not arrive, the US will need to determine whether it is cost-efficient, given the remaining shelf life, to keep the medicines in storage near the port or move the medicines to other countries where they are also needed."
This comes as government agencies PPB and the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) traded accusations on who was responsible for the stalemate.
While appearing before the National Health Committee yesterday, Ms Lilian Nyawanda, the commissioner of Customs and Border Control said 78 containers brought in by privately-owned American firm Chemonics on behalf of USAid had since been released to the organisation.
"The consignment arrived between January and February and we provisionally cleared them after the regulator, PPB, gave a clearance permit, the drugs were released to the United States Embassy as the consignee," she said.
Ms Nyawanda indicated that the consignment had been released to the United States and it is holding it in one of its warehouses in the country.
Thirteen other containers with ARV drugs are awaiting permit clearance by the PPB before the Kenya Revenue Authority can release them.
She noted that by February, the KRA had cleared everything and patients could have received their drugs. She said the stalemate had not been occasioned by KRA or the government.
For the 13 containers still at the port, Ms Nyawanda indicated that they had not received a clearance permit from the PPB and the clearance cannot begin without the regulator's authority, even if the tax is waived.
"Once this [clearance] is done, then we are able to clear even tomorrow," she said.
Ms Nyawanda said that as a commitment from the government to waive Sh113 million for the entire consignment billed to the firm, KRA had received Sh45 million.
"The balance is not a hindrance, once we get the commitment, we're ready to clear the goods but we cannot do that until a clearance permit is issued, which is all we are waiting for," she said.
"This has taken abnormally too long for the goods to clear. Ideally, it should take a maximum of four days because after that it starts attracting damage for storage," said Mr Joseph Kaguru, a KRA commissioner.
However, according to Mr Allan Kyalo, the head of Trade Affairs at the PPB, when the USAid submitted an application for clearance to the board, it was instructed to amend the consignee to read Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa).
"They applied in the system but once you place a wrong consignee it is automatically rejected and they have since not applied for a new permit," he said.
A senior officer at the PPB told Nation that the instruction to make Kemsa the consignee of the drugs came from the Ministry of Health and the board had no control over it.
The other 78 containers were released without changing the consignee to Kemsa.
The Ministry of Health insists that the consignment must be distributed by Kemsa, while the USAid had delegated the distribution and procurement to Chemonics.