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Insulin shortage hits diabetes patients as State, KPDA tussle

By George Kebaso
Friday, October 11th, 2019
Kenya Pharmaceutical Distributors Association chair Kamamia Murichu said the drug shortage puts lives of diabetes patients at risk. Photo/PD/KENNA CLAUDE

The ongoing tug-of-war between government and pharmaceutical companies over the inspection of imported drugs is threatening the lives of over a million diabetes patients.

This is due to a reported shortage of insulin which is expected to worsen if the stalemate is not resolved. The country is also staring at a shortage of other vital drugs such as anti-cancer drugs and blood products, according to Kenya Pharmaceutical Distributors Association (KPDA).

At the heart of the standoff is a new directive by the government that subjects medical products to double inspection before they are allowed into the country.

KPDA is now demanding an audience with President Uhuru Kenyatta to resolve the matter. Medicines make up to 80 per cent of pharmaceutical imports in the country. 

“Some brands of insulin are already out of stock in hospitals and pharmacies in the country. Insulin is a life-saving drug; without it, there is fear we may lose many Kenyans living with diabetes because they need it on a daily basis,” KPDA chair Kamamia Murichu told People Daily on phone yesterday.

Technical knowledge

The revelation came on the day pharmacists and drug retailers threatened to increase costs of medicine if the President does not rescind his directive.

Murichu dismissed a recent directive by Health Cabinet secretary Sicily Kariuki asking pharmaceutical firms to provide documented statistical evidence for the impact of the controversial Pre-Export Verification of Conformity (PVoC) on the supply of medicines.

“The problem we have in this country is that the ministry is run by people who have no technical knowledge of the issue at hand. CS Kariuki has demonstrated that she does not understand this issue. The evidence she is asking for is already on her table as we speak,” he said.

On Tuesday, the CS held a crisis meeting with pharmaceutical firms to forge a way forward. She asked distributors to give evidence of how the double inspection would impact on the duration of importing and cost of drugs.

Murichu said KPDA seeks to explain to the President the implications of having Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs)inspect pharmaceutical products which require special scrutiny.

Authoritarian directive

He said pharmacists have documented evidence for increased trade price and ultimately increased the price of drugs occasioned by PVoC.

“Therefore, if the President does not rescind this authoritarian directive, we would have no option but to increase the cost of medicines by 40 to 60 per cent, to bear the new charges of inspection imposed on them,” said Murichu.

Kenya adopted PVoC in 2005, but a recently expanded guideline by Kebs has been criticised heavily by the pharmacists, who claim it does not support the government’s ease of doing business policy. 

The government argues that PVoC will assure Kenyan consumers of the safety and quality of the imported goods they buy, and to protect local manufacturers from unfair competition. Importers have since ceased to import pharmaceutical products until the impasse is resolved.

“The government needs to decide whether it is Pharmacy and Poisons Board or Kebs—whichever is technically qualified—to conduct the inspection. But not both. This is also a barrier to Universal Health Coverage,” said Dr  Wairimu Mbogo, a pharmacist.

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