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Treasury CS Yatani roots for local manufacturing of ARVs

Treasury CS Yatani roots for local manufacturing of ARVs

By Vincent Odhiambo | The Government is mulling new measures to promote local production of Anti-Retroviral drugs (ARVs).

This follows a protracted stalemate between the Government and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) over the importation of HIV/AIDS drugs that have put the country at risk of experiencing a nationwide shortage and left more than 1.2 million patients in limbo with no antiretroviral drugs.

According to the National Treasury Cabinet Secretary, Amb. Ukur Yatani, the Government might consider coming up with favourable tax measures in a bid to boost local manufacturing of medicine. 

“A few months ago, we came up and zero-rated and, some may know, we put under tax exemption on the production of medicine in this country. So the ones manufacturing here enjoy a comparative edge over imported drugs,” said Yatani.

Yatani, who appeared before the Senate Standing Committee on Health in a virtual meeting, said the move would, however, not be dependent on his ministry alone and would only be successful through a multi-agency approach that includes Afya House.

“This is still a matter that the National Treasury cannot on its own initiate whatever proposed tax measures. It can only be done with support or initiative of user ministries.”

His remarks come days after Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe on Wednesday last week said the country cannot continue depending on foreign countries for the support of ARVs while inspecting the Moi County Referral Hospital in Voi, Taita Taveta.

Yatani also warned that tax exemptions might not be enough to promote private sector involvement given the high cost of production.

The row between the Kenyan and US governments puts the lives of close to 1.2 million patients at risk after USAID failed to approve the release of a consignment worth Ksh.1.2 billion that includes the life-saving antiretroviral drugs held at the port of Mombasa since January this year.

The Ministry of Health is also currently investigating individuals at the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (KEMSA), suspected to have released, Zidovudine/Lamivudine/Nevirapine, a toxic antiretroviral drug which was phased out a year ago to patients in over 31 counties.

Acquisition of vaccines

Meanwhile, the National Treasury C.S. has assured Kenyans that funding of COVID-19 vaccine imports will not be a problem as provisions to purchase more vaccines are in place. C.S Yatani said the government has allocated over Ksh.7 Billion in this financial year ending June with a higher amount allocated for the next financial year.

“It is true we’ve made provisions for the purchase of vaccines in this financial year and also next financial year and we’ve made all the necessary planning and budgeting for the same,” said C.S Yatani.

Kenya, like many other African countries, is confronting challenges in securing vaccine supplies in time for the second dose in the first phase of the mass vaccination roll out.

The country faced a setback in early April when India decided to suspend the exportation of the vaccines following an upsurge in new infections within its borders, coupled with the stretched market of the vaccines due to high demands.

“We’re not only targeting one particular vaccine because of the challenge of supply. You can even place an order today and based on the que you cannot get it immediately,” Yatani added.

Kenya is expecting 2.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the COVAX facility to arrive before the end of this month.

On April 30, C.S. Kagwe told the Health Committee that the first recipients of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine will receive their second dose during the first week of June 2021.

He further told the Committee that his Ministry is in talks with the African Union (AU) to procure 7 million doses of Pfizer and 10 million doses of Johnson and Johnson vaccines to vaccinate an additional 13.5 million Kenyans.

As of May 3, a total of 2021, 884,858 Kenyans had so far been vaccinated against the COVID-19 disease countrywide with the number of those aged 58 years and above together being 515,288. 157,967 Health workers have been vaccinated, followed by 137,348 teachers and 74,272 Security Officers.

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