- When counties came I was made Health CEC for Makueni and the story of Makueni is well known
- I feel shielded, even as many interests come, I'm able to push them away
When Andrew Mulwa was named acting CEO of the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority in May 2023, part of his family and friends were not amused.
His mother berated him, asking why he was courting trouble.
His explanation that he never applied for the job did not appease her.
Kemsa had lost billions of public funds through overpriced Covid-19 supplies.
It had also bungled a Sh3.7 billion mosquito nets tender funded by the Global Fund. The last two CEOs had been fired amid allegations of malpractice.
Dr Mulwa, a 41-year-old medic and official at Afya House, is now expected to fix the mess. The new leadership is backed by the new Kemsa chairman Irungu Nyakera. Dr Mulwa explains to the Star what this role means for his life. He spoke to John Muchangi.
Health CS Nakhumicha has spoken a lot about the strong and influential drug and equipment supply cartels at Kemsa. What was your reaction to your appointment?
To be honest, I was shocked and excited. Excited because as a student of history, I know many times in a generation, one is called to do some business in the interests of their country. And when I got the appointment, I was sure that was the moment for me to sacrifice my path for the nation. I felt it was my moment of freedom fighting.
What about the people close to you?
A lot of my professional colleagues were sceptical and felt this was the end of me. Others have congratulated me and wished me luck warning this appointment is potentially career-ending. My mother has not come to terms with that until today. But I see the bigger picture. The role of this job in the lives and livelihoods of people supersedes the challenges that have bedevilled Kemsa the past three or four years.
My children are still young, so they may not understand what it means. My spouse knows my strengths. She knows how I am able to navigate through. She was like, no one is better suited than you.
So who is Andrew Mulwa?
I grew up in the village, in Makueni. I wouldn't say we were the poorest of the poor. But we had no electricity, no TV, no radio and all that stuff. So I'm truly from the bottom. I went to Makueni Boys High School but in 2000 our KCSE results were cancelled. I've told this story many times because I still believe there was no malpractice. Our class was among the top so I guess this surprised the examiners. I repeated in Machakos Boys and got straight As in all eight subjects.
It was during my internship at Machakos Level 5 Hospital that I realised I had a passion for patient care. During my internship, I remember I would spend up to 72 hours at work. Because I would not let a woman in labour, someone who needs my immediate attention suffer, because it's not my duty time.
After my internship when I was posted to Makueni, I was I was the only doctor for a while running all the departments in one hospital alone. When I was moved to Mbooni Sub District Hospital, I started theatre there. I never referred a single patient for the entire five years regardless of where I was. At one point, in 2011, I left my traditional wedding to go do a ceasarian section. That's the passion that I had.
When counties came I was made Health CEC for Makueni and the story of Makueni is well known. I served until 2021 when I was headhunted to head the directorate of medical services in the Ministry of Health. And now where I am.
Do you feel your office has enough authority to deal with the cartels and other issues facing Kemsa?
That has been clear From day one. When I was appointed, I asked the Health CS, I hope you will give me the political support, the goodwill that is required from your office and the leadership of the country to run the organisation. So far I have enjoyed that, I feel shielded. Even as many interests come, I'm able to push them away with the simple statement, we have to adhere to the rule of law, and we have to do the right thing. We have no sacred cows. And we have no sacrificial lambs. So far, I have the space to do the right thing. And at no point did any of the top leaders in the country tell me not to do that. That has been consistent, and I feel their support. That is what makes me confident we are going to turn around the organisation sooner than even earlier.
The Health Laws (Amendment) Act 2019 made Kemsa a monopoly by making it mandatory for national and county health facilities to buy drugs and medical supplies only from Kemsa. (The courts quashed this law in 2021). What’s your view on that?
There's a theory of motivation. Human beings are lazy by nature. So there must be an incentive for one to do certain things the way they do. We are working very hard to deliver on our core mandate, because someone else out there is ready to fill the void because now, our clients can buy from the private sector, they can buy from anywhere.
But when the law made it mandatory for the clients to buy from Kemsa, the motivation to perform was lost. And I think that where Kemsa slackened on the continuous high performance that we are working on. Because they were guaranteed of the clients anyway. So why would they work hard? Why would they ensure that their prices are the lowest? Why would they even ensure that the quality is right? Why would they ensure that the turnaround time of supplies is short? Because whether they deliver after 30 days or after two days, the clients are there.
So to me, if I were to write a paper, I would say the law, the legal framework, is the one that was killing Kemsa.
Finally, what challenges have you faced since you came in?
Many challenges. Of course, the beauty is I have been working on cleanup. There were many issues with human resources. The most difficult decision that I had to make was to lay off 200 people in the middle of the harsh economic times because the organization was bloated. I also found that there were contracts whose value to the organization was doubtful. I have managed to stop that. They fight back. Trying to muddy my name, my personality. You feel it constantly, from all the people who are threatened by this transformation.
But challenges are what make us sharpen our skills. We have surmounted that. So far so good. We have actually a one-year turnaround strategy to put Kemsa back in the right direction and high performance. We have a strategy written, we will be launching the plan in the course of the year.