The Ministry of Health is expected to make more arrests in the coming days after a syndicates involving officials at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) was exposed for stealing expensive cancer drugs for sale.
Principal Secretary Ms Susan Mochache said more heads will roll as auditors were perusing other files to nail more suspects in the scam in which six employees at the referral facility were implicated and arraignment before a court over the theft and sale of cancer drugs worth Sh4.6 million.
Contrary to reports that the media unearthed the scam before the sleuths were called in to investigate, Ms Mochache insisted that the internal audit team from the Ministry uncovered the racket before the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) were involved.
“We have a lot of investigations in place by DCI at Kenyatta National Hospital and others are going on at ministerial level. So, I want to tell Kenyans to expect more arrests in coming weeks,” the Principal Secretary pledged.
Speaking when she commissioned the Regional Cancer Center at the Nakuru Level 5 Teaching and Referral Hospital Ms Mochache assured Kenyans that the Ministry would not relent on cracking the whip on cartels and crooked staff at Afya House, National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) and Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (KEMSA).
The Principal Secretary was responding to Kenya Network of Cancer Organizations Executive Director Christine Mugo-Sitati who had petitioned for an audit of the KNH Cancer unit following reports of the massive theft.
Also present at the inauguration of the Shs 650 million facility were Governor Lee Kinyanjui, County Commissioner Erastus Mwenda, the Nakuru Level 5 Teaching and Referral Hospital Medical Superintendent Dr Aisha Maina and acting County Chief Officer, Health Services Dr Daniel Wainaina.
Ms Mochache added “We are restructuring the NHIF board and management. We hired a new managing director to drive the UHC (universal health coverage) agenda. If we don’t do this thing well, we’ll be taken to court. We have done a lot of work at the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority.
The Principal Secretary noted that through various initiatives by Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe and in collaboration with various state regulatory and investigative agencies the Ministry had built a team of trusted people, who are against corruption.
She stated “The issue of health is so personal that we cannot take chances, this is an issue of dealing with old people, children and mothers giving birth. If people are sick and cannot get medicine and there are delays because of corruption, we are not retreating.”
According to Ms Mochache the internal audit by the Ministry and investigations by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations had established that the drug theft not only involves medics but a web of employees.
“Let’s wait for court proceedings to end before a decision is made on the fate of the suspected culprits. We cannot compromise the health of our patients, yet you are charged with ensuring they get better. Is this how inhuman some people can get?” posed the Principal Secretary.
In her remarks during the inauguration of the facility Ms Sitati said the thefts negate the ongoing reform initiatives by both national and county governments to make access to quality essential medicines and medical supplies a right for all Kenyans at all times.
Every year, an estimated 42,116 new cases of cancer are reported with the number of cancer deaths estimated at 27,092 annually, according to the Ministry of Health.
“It is important to note that the burden of non-communicable diseases in the country has been rising. Cancers account for the third largest cause of death in Kenya, after infectious and cardiovascular diseases,” Ms Sitati pointed out.
She informed the PS that patients are also being denied proper treatment due to disappearance of drugs from public health facilities such as the KNH.
“Theft of essential medicine is seriously affecting patients who also report receiving wrong drugs “Systems at KNH require audit because we also have constant breakdown of radiotherapy machines.”
Previously, some officials were accused of orchestrating the breakdowns so that patients could be sent to private facilities.
Breast, cervix, uteri, oesophagus, prostate and colorectal cancer are the leading types of new cancer cases in both males and females across all ages, Sitati said.
“Unfortunately, 70 to 80 per cent of cancer patients in Kenya are diagnosed at an advanced disease when it is not amenable to cure,” noted the Network of Cancer Organizations executive director.
Ms Sitati expressed regret that there was an increased cost of accessing medical care whenever critical infrastructure is broken down as patients have to dig deeper into their pockets to access the same treatment in private facilities.
“We call upon the Ministry to ensure there is no conflict of interest of those who manage the cancer units at public hospitals and private facilities due to the high probability of stolen drugs finding their way to private facilities.”
By Jane Ngugi and Mercy Syombua