CORRUPTION

Shame of a nation: Robbing the sick, dying

If the health sector fails the health test, which sector will pass the integrity test? None.

In Summary
  • Heroes and heroines are the looters of public coffers, who are christened philanthropists and development conscious. 
  • Unless the appetite for quick wealth is tamed sooner rather than later, President Kenyatta’s dream legacy, Universal Health Coverage, could be just that—a dream.
Kemsa warehouse in Embakasi, Nairobi.
Kemsa warehouse in Embakasi, Nairobi.
Image: FILE

Without money in the pocket, the sick, some suffering from curable ailments, stare at death in Kenya.

This is a country where medical supplies for public health facilities are stolen and diverted to private clinics where the fees charged are out of reach for the majority.

Covid-19 patients are the latest victims of plunder of supplies donated to fight the pandemic, which has claimed hundreds of lives and infected thousands since it was reported in March in Kenya. The health of the vulnerable does not matter to merchants of death at the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority, whose officials are under parliamentary probe and investigation by security agencies.

Disturbed by the plunder is Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe, who has hinted at a powerful cartel at his office which, like other public offices, bears a signboard reading 'This is a corruption-free zone'.

Mega scandals are often politicised and labelled witch-hunt by tribal chauvinists. For the fear of losing votes, political party leaders have come to the defence of corruption suspects.

This write-up would be incomplete without jogging the memory of readers on the genesis of the ailment at the Health ministry. Forty-seven years ago, a senior official in charge of Central Medical Stores, renamed Kemsa, ordered drugs to last 25 years, shelf-life of the medicines notwithstanding.

Deputy secretary Zacharia Shimechero was tried and jailed for five years for fraud. Unlike today, the officer's trial did not elicit street protests by hired goons in a country where honesty is demonised and corruption glorified.

That was the perhaps the last time that a senior public servant was convicted and imprisoned for impropriety.

Heroes and heroines are the looters of public coffers, who are christened philanthropists and development conscious. Even church leaders invite such characters to preside over fundraising activities.

The country leadership cannot escape blame for the escalation of the vice. Parliament endorsed the Duncan Ndegwa Commission report that opened corruption floodgates for looters of public coffers, among whom are state employees.

The Ndegwa report relaxed age-old Public Service Regulations that banned civil servants from engaging in business, more so with the employer. The foregoing being the norm, public service health personnel like Shimechero did not want to be left behind in the race to quick riches. Medics steal drugs, divert patients to their clinics and open pharmacies and chemists. Don’t be surprised if you are turned away from a hospital for lack medicine.

Unless the appetite for quick wealth is tamed sooner rather than later, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s dream legacy, Universal Health Coverage, could be just that—a dream.

If the health sector fails the health test, which sector will pass the integrity test? None. We will have to make do with what we have until our saviour returns for the final judgment.