Sex workers under their umbrella body Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Programme (BHESP) are raising concerns over safety of their work after reports emerged of missing condoms donated by the Global Fund to Kenya, that were under the custody of Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (KEMSA).   

Some over 1000 000 condoms, 908 000 mosquito nets and tuberculosis drugs worth Sh10 million ($87 000) are reported missing from a warehouse operated by Kemsa.

The essential items are believed to have been stolen and resold in the black market and to private chemists, according to the United Nations Global Fund to fight HIV, TB and malaria.

Anne Njeri (not her real name) who is a sex worker operating in the sprawling Huruma slums in Nairobi and who picks free condoms from BHESP Roysambu dice wondered how such an occurrence can occur bearing in mind how important condoms are in prevention of the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. “This basically means that we may be forced to go about our duties without protection as I cannot afford to buy condoms from the chemists,” said Njeri. “Prices of foodstuffs have skyrocketed, matatus fare has doubled, rent has been increased and now we also have to budget to buy condoms that we were getting free of charge, it is very unfair to us,” added Njeri.

BHESP normally receives batches of condoms and other drugs donated by the Global Fund through Kemsa for distribution to sex workers in several distributions centers in Nairobi and other towns in the country. According to Jeniffer Gacheru, a clinical officer in charge at BHESP Roysambu dice, they have run out of condoms as the last consignment they received run out a few weeks ago. “We were forced to ration the stock that we had remained with and we are yet to receive more condoms from KEMSA,” said Ms Gacheru.

But KEMSA board has denied the Global Fund report terming it as mere allegations and assured the public that they are committed to integrity.

KEMSA board chair Mary Mwadime said Global Fund report was shared to the public without seeking clarification from her office. “Media reports alluding and alleging that KEMSA has faced fresh integrity challenges are therefore untrue,” she said.

The report revealed that the KEMSA warehousing and distribution systems were affecting traceability and accountability of commodities received and distributed. “Kemsa has poor internal controls on warehousing and inventory management resulting in 16% differences in batch numbers verified and discrepancies of 908,000 long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs) between actual and expected stock balances,” the Global Fund’s report reads.

The report further accuses KEMSA of improper monitoring and distribution of its drugs and commodities, thereby making the agency vulnerable to theft.

“Kemsa’s Nairobi warehouse was overcrowded with commodities during our visit, making it difficult to trace commodities,” the report said.

An audit by Global Fund shows that the agency over-quoted the value of medicines by KSh 640 million ($5.6m), with some types of drugs having been inflated 100 times.

Further, some of the drugs, which were bought by cash from Global Fund, expired despite there being a shortage in government hospitals across the country.

The Global Fund’s anti-graft unit Office of the Inspector General has called for a further investigation into KEMSA dealings, a move that could put the Fund’s funding to Kenya at risk.

The Fund – whose principal donors are the US, France, Germany and Japan – has disbursed over Ksh 150 billion to Kenya since 2003 to help fight diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, HIV/AIDS and the recent Covid-19.

In 2019, the United States Agency for Development (USAID) called out KEMSA for lack of integrity and corruption that denied patients 1.5 million HIV lifesaving drugs.

In the meantime BHESP has joined other civil societies and NGO’s operating in Kenya to demand that procurement and distribution of drugs and other commodities like condoms be moved KEMSA. “We have kept complaining about KEMSA’s way of working with us and it seems corruption there is deep rooted, it is the lives of key populations (KPs) that is at risk while few corrupt officials at KEMSA are enriching themselves,” said BHESP deputy director Josephine Achieng.

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