Graft negatively affecting Kenya’s maternal and infant health

By Gitonga Njeru


Experts fear that corruption could reverse the gains made on maternal and infant deaths in Kenya.

There has been widespread corruption in most government-owned facilities in the country and a few private hospitals. Documented cases of doctors, nurses and clinical workers being arrested for selling medicines and food supplements abound in the country’s press.

Now investigators want about 73 public hospitals investigated over illegal sale of drugs and food supplies meant for pregnant women.

“This issue is very serious and the people involved are nurses, doctors and administrative officials in different hospitals across the country. 73 facilities are currently under investigations. We are investigating mostly maternity hospitals.

Over 2,000 hospital employees are suspected to be to be involved in this illegal activity.

“The health workers so far cannot explain the source of their wealth coupled with their much smaller monthly salary. To make matters worse, the drugs are in short supply or almost none existent in most of the affected facilities”, said Daniel Yumbya, Chief legal officer at the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board.

The problem is serious and just a few months ago, senior government officials were implicated in a drug supply scandal and minted close to $2 billion illegally.

The money was channeled through the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (KEMSA) to supply drugs through government tenders. Prosecutors had recommended the prosecution of at least 15 top individuals who were politically connected.

The supplies are provided for free to pregnant women at any government owned medical facility.

At the time last year, the corruption scandal led to a shortage of COVID-19 emergency equipment. KEMSA is a government agency tasked with the purchase of drugs and essential medical supplies for the entire country.  Some of the tenders were given to some nonexistent private companies for the supply of drugs.

“But this kind of professional malpractice is very unacceptable and it is risking the lives of innocent people and reversing gains made in reproductive health”, added Yumbya.

The specific drugs sold to mostly private pharmacies include, Ranferon, it is 200 ml and is a blood builder in pregnant women. It prevents anaemia and blood loss during child birth.

It also increases folic acid which helps the fetus brain develop properly to avoid problems such as spina Bifida.

There are other drugs and supplements. Softron is another drug widely sold illegally and it can also be found in the black market at prices four times higher than its normal retail price.

Both drugs are manufactured by Relax Biotech pvt Ltd Company of India. They are distributed by Avetina Life sciences Ltd Company located in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. The company then sells the drugs to the government through tenders.

“Private pharmacies either but knowingly or unknowingly. And it seems the suppliers are well connected even these juinior nurses and doctors”, says Hillary Mutyambai, the current Inspector General of Police.

Mutyabai says that the drugs are stolen from the shelves or in house pharmacies of the hospitals, then sold ro different private and black markets.

“The individuals appear well connected politically and some senior politicians may be involved in this illegal activity. Investigations will reveal more as time progresses”, says the police boss.

He adds that even the procurement process for the drugs to the government medical facilities is corrupt from start to finish.

Salome Wanjiru aged 81 is a mother and grandmother of many. One of her grand-children had to pay a fee from a government maternity hospital for Iron and blood boosting medicines.

“When my granddaughter was pregnant, she had to pay for the drugs when they were meant to be free. She was charged for the purchase of iron and blood boosting drugs at the Bungoma County Hospital two years ago”, says Salome who switched residence from Central Kenya to Western Kenya where her husband hails from.

To reduce such incidences from happening in future, the government has posted its intelligence Agencies to all its medical facilities.

“We have managed to make several arrests. We have made about 42 arresrs but we expect the numbers to be much higher. It may take time before make more arrests as investigations are still in the preliminary stages.

“We hope to arrest some senior people in government once we are completed with our work”, Mutyabai added.

He says that the police will offer some reasonable cash rewards for members of the public who blow the whistle plus guaranteed witness protection under the current laws.

“It is very evident that corruption is compromising maternal and infant health. Shortage of vital drugs during pregnancy and actual childbirth means death.

“It is very serious and surveillance measures need to be undertaken to avert a health crisis”, says Dr. John Ngaya, a Primatologist in private practice from Nairobi.

According to Mutyambai, the government has installed high quality security surveillance cameras across all its maternity facilities countrywide.

“It’s been effective together with other security measures that we can’t make public”, he said.

“Corruption in Kenya is compromising proper nutrition for pregnant mothers. Corruption unfortunately is a daily lifestyle for many here”, added Mutyambai.

“Medicines and food supplements for pregnant women during their pregnancy cycle is being sold. It is sold by hospital staff mostly to private chemists (Pharmacists). This is done in different public hospitals countrywide at unprecedented levels”, said Phillip Muteshi, an administrator at Pumwani Maternity Hospital located in Nairobi.

This is an obstacle for proper nutrition for pregnant women and there are serious health risks for both mother and infant. Maternity services are free in the country in all government facilities inclusive of all medicine, ultrasound etc.

World Health Organization estimates that there are 31.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2018. However, the death rates have reduced by 35.3 percent in 2015.

In 2010, the constitution, mandated 47 counties to be allocated funds to manage their health sector by the Central government including public Hospitals.

The central Government only manages referral hospitals which every county has at least one facility.

Dr. Agnes Kalibata, Special Envoy for the 2021 Food Summit told Journalists recently during an International Center For Journalists Webinar, that most African countries are on line with the Sustainable Development Goals.