Kenya has exempted tax on a donation of HIV drugs that have been at the centre of a stalemate for three months causing a shortage.
The finance ministry said the exemption to the US development agency (USAID)’s donation was made after the health ministry said millions of Kenyans who depend on the antiretroviral (ARV) drugs were affected.
Many public hospitals were giving the drugs in rations, to stretch the supply. Patients used to get six months’ supply of medication at a go, but can now only get weekly doses.
The shortage was due to a tax standoff after the USAID declined to import the drugs through the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa), citing corruption and mismanagement. It opted to use a private company to import and distribute the drugs.
Two important drugs, Nevirapine and Zidovudine syrup, are completely out of stock. One is used to suppress viral load and boost immunity, and the other drug is used to prevent mother-to-child transmission.
According to the ministry of health, at least 6,800 babies were born with HIV last year because their mothers did not take medication properly during pregnancy and after birth.
Mothers have been advised not to breastfeed their children, to prevent transmission, since the babies are not receiving the right combination of drugs.