Kenya: No Hope for PPE to Health Workers As Strike Continues

Confusion continues to surround an order issued by Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe to the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (Kemsa) to release personal protective equipment (PPE) to health care workers and other Kenyans.

For months, Kemsa has been stuck with PPE valued at more than Sh6 billion, even as health workers went on strike protesting the lack of protection against Covid-19, among other grievances.

Early this month, Mr Kagwe directed Kemsa to sell the equipment to counties, but the agency says it has not received formal communication from the ministry.

Kemsa is hesitant to act on Mr Kagwe’s orders as it is already in trouble with the Ethic and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) over tendering for some of the gear.

Mr Kagwe said he gave Kemsa permission to sell the kits at market price, which would mean a Sh2.33 billion loss to the taxpayer.

The agency, however, insists on written authorisation before the gadgets can leave its godowns.

It is not clear why the minister has not issued formal orders.

Crucial gadgets

What is clear, however, is that every hour the crucial gadgets remain locked up at Kemsa stores, thousands of patients and health care workers are at risk of contracting the disease.

The Ministry of Health now blames EACC for the impasse.

In a presentation to the Senate Health Committee, the ministry said PPE are some of the items seized by the commission over the Sh7.8 billion Kemsa tender scam.

It added that releasing the PPE would interfere with the investigations.

Health Chief Administrative Secretary Mercy Mwangangi said the ministry sought directions from the anti-corruption watchdog on the release of the kits but has not received a response.

“We have asked that EACC releases some if not all the PPE so that they are provided to health workers. We are still waiting for a word from the commission,” she said.

Released Sh6 billion

Even as the two entities blame each other and remain in possession of the equipment, nurses and clinical officers have abandoned hospitals, saying their colleagues are dying from coronavirus-related complications due to a lack of PPE and medical cover.

The National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) maintains the money it has been allocated for health workers’ comprehensive cover has not been released.

“You won’t believe it if I tell you that we hear some of these announcements on the media,” a senior NHIF official, who did not wish to be named, told the Sunday Nation.

“Discussions about the scheme are ongoing. We only heard that the government has released Sh6 billion to the insurer though we have not received official communication.”

After the government said it had released Sh6.3 billion to the NHIF on Friday to provide a comprehensive medical scheme for public servants, including healthcare workers, some 37 clinical officers were admitted to hospital with Covid-19.

The NHIF has not settled their bills that are accumulating.

Striking health workers have vowed not to resume duty until their grievances are looked into by the authorities.

Thousands of sick Kenyans have not been attended to at public hospitals since the beginning of the strike on Monday. Some hospitals have even registered deaths.

Financially capable families have transferred their sick relatives to private hospitals.

At least 32 doctors, 28 nurses and 12 clinical officers have died from the virus, with more than 2, 900 health care workers getting infected since March when the pandemic struck Kenya.

Doctors called off their planned strike and have given the government two weeks to address their grievances.

A nurse at Kakamega General Hospital died on Friday, becoming the latest casualty of the ongoing nationwide strike.

Mr Wycliffe Alumasa had been ill for a week but his condition deteriorated.

He collapsed and died at his home in Shikangania village.

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