Kenya health facilities lack drugs, say activists

June 30, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 30 – A group of civil society organisations has said that 50 percent of dispensaries and district health facilities lack essential medicines.

The groups which are working to stop depletion of the vital drugs said on Tuesday that the shortage was prevalent in all parts of the country and the situation was getting worse.

"Essential medicines are available in only 50 percent of lower health facilities and in about 65 percent of hospitals in Kenya, it’s about to get worse with the ongoing problems at Kenya Medical Supplies Agency, (KEMSA)," Kenya Treatment Access Movement Coordinator James Kamau said.

Mr Kamau said essential medicines that treat common diseases like diarrhoea, Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), meningitis, malaria, bacteria and infections common in children were not adequate in public health centres as is required.

He also said the most commonly used pain killer (morphine) was too expensive due to the tax imposed on the drug by the Kenya Revenue Authority.

Morphine is commonly used by cancer and HIV/AIDS patients as a pain reliever.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), "essential medicines should satisfy the needs of the majority of the population, should be available at all times, in adequate amounts in appropriate dosage and at a price the individual and community can afford."

Mr Kamau pointed out that Kenya had grossly violated the WHO requirement since the top 10 most essential drugs remained unavailable let alone the 100 listed by the organisation.

Kenya Hospices and Palliative Care Association Programme Officer David Musyoki said the Stop Stock-Outs campaign uses Short Messaging Service (SMS) to collect information from clients visiting public health centres.

Patients usually text the drugs that they had been told are out of stock to a service number.

He encouraged members of the public to continue forwarding such information to put more pressure on the government to avail essential medicines in all public health centres.

He said the Stop Stock-Outs group had informed the government of the serious discrepancies of the essential drugs yet no efforts had been put in place to address the inadequacy.

Consumer Information Network Coordinator Emma Wanyonyo said due to the shortage users are forced to seek alternative medicines which are unsafe.

She also said they were subjected to more expensive costs as they have to travel to other areas to purchase for the medicine.

"Some consumers are also going without these drugs, leading to an increase in inappropriate use of drugs.  We also have people dying because they cannot access essential drugs," she said.

Health Action International Regional Coordinator Patrick Mubangizi blamed the shortage of the essential drugs on bureaucracy at KEMSA which he said fostered challenges in the chain of supply.

He also suggested autonomy for KEMSA to fasten tendering, procurement and supply of essential drugs in the country.

"The causes of stock-outs are similar in many developing countries.   The central medical agencies are not given the required autonomy to supply the medicines at the right time, because of vested interest and bureaucracy," he said.

The Stop Stock-Outs activists made an appeal to the government to access the situation and adhere to the WHO requirement of 15 percent allocation of the total budget.

In this year’s budget the Health sector was allocated 5 percent of the total budget.

Mr Mubangizi said it was important for the government to fund itself and stop over relying on donor funding.


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