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Kenya Seeks to Reassure Nation as US Suspends Some Health Funding

  • Rael Ombuor

FILE - Demonstrators wear mock prison outfits to show that they want to imprison those engaged in corruption, in Nairobi, Kenya Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016.

Kenya’s government says it is reaching out to U.S. officials so it can address concerns of “corruption and weak accounting procedures" the U.S. embassy says have prompted the suspension of $21 million in assistance to Kenya’s Ministry of Health.

Kenya’s government spokesperson Eric Kiraithe sought to reassure the nation in an interview with VOA’s Swahili service.

He says, “There are no health services that are going to be affected. We will look into our budget and where there are any gaps that have arisen as a result of the U.S government’s move, we will be able to fill in.”

He told VOA his government is reaching out to the United States via diplomatic channels to learn the conditions to be met so the suspension can be lifted.

Announcing the suspension Tuesday, the U.S. Embassy said funding for “life-saving and essential health services” and “medications going directly to Kenyans” is not affected.

The U.S. government contributes more than $650 million annually to Kenya’s health sector. The embassy said “a small portion” of that aid is suspended — $21 million of direct assistance to the Ministry of Health.

Citing corruption concerns, the embassy said “we are working with the Ministry on ways to improve accounting and internal controls.”

There have been several accusations of irregularities at the health ministry during the past year.

The most prominent is the “5 Billion Afya House” scandal. In October, a government audit revealed the health ministry, which is housed at Afya House, could not account for about $51 million, or 5.3 billion Kenyan shillings, in missing funds. The money was suspected to have been paid to supply companies, some of whom were linked to top government officials. Investigations are ongoing.

The health sector has seen other upheaval as well. Public doctors demanding promised wage increases, equipment and better working conditions went on strike nationwide for more than three months.

A leader of that strike, Dr. Ouma Olunga, called the U.S. suspension an important wake-up call.

"If we were to rid our systems of corruption and then get aid, I think we will move much faster because, as I mentioned, we have accountability issues, so how do you help someone who is stealing from themselves?” said Olunga.

The opposition has seized on corruption as a top issue before nationwide elections in August.

Kenya dropped six places past year to position 145 out of 176 countries in the annual Corruption Perception Index released by the global watchdog Transparency International.

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