The U.S. government has suspended $21 million direct aid to Kenya’s Health Ministry following corruption allegations, an official statement from the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi said.

“We took this step because of ongoing concern about reports of corruption and weak accounting procedures at the Ministry. The action is intended to ensure that health care spending reaches those in need, and to protect U.S. taxpayer money,”

“We are working with the Ministry on ways to improve accounting and internal controls and hope to restore the funding when appropriate progress is made,” the statement said.

The U.S. government has previously expressed concern over the suspicious spending of money meant for healthcare programs in Kenya. According to the embassy, the suspended finances represent only a small portion of the overall U.S. health investment in Kenya, which exceeds $650 million.

“Our support for life-saving and essential health services, such as providing anti-retroviral therapy for a million Kenyans, is not affected by the suspension. We will continue to provide funding for health services and medications going directly to Kenyans,” the statement noted.

On the front line against malaria: Army medical researchers in Kenya mark World Malaria Day 2010. Photo by Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army Africa Public Affairs/ Flickr

U.S. government’s aid programs

The U.S. government is one of the biggest donors, which support the health sector in Kenya, through programs such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). PEPFAR is a U.S. government initiative, which has helped to save the lives of people suffering from HIV/AIDS around the world. Since 2004, the U.S. government has been one of the major donors in the HIV response in Kenya.

PEPFAR has enabled Kenyans living with HIV/AIDS to access the treatment and care they need while also gaining the knowledge to eliminate the spread of the disease from mother-to-child and partner-to-partner.

Effects of the aid suspension

The suspension of the health aid could be a severe blow to efforts to reduce the burden of Malaria, one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in Kenya.

The U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) has been a key program, and its support has been critical to ending preventable maternal and child deaths through the continuum of care, including antenatal care; skilled birth attendance; essential newborn care; and post-partum care and prevention and management of common childhood illnesses at the community level.

Read: Kenya, Malawi and Ghana chosen for malaria vaccine pilot program

“The suspension now brings hopeless to the ordinary women, children and poor people living with HIV/AIDs for whom PEPFAR and other US programs on health was the only source of hope,” Raila Odinga, the opposition presidential candidate said.

Corruption and malfeasance 

There has been numerous cases of corruption in the public sector over the past few years. The corruption, which seems to go unpunished has angered the public, with accusations that the political elite is either directly or indirectly involved in various dodgy deals.

Transparency International’s corruption index has ranked Kenya number 145 out of 176. According to a Kenyan government survey published last year by the Ethics and Anti Corruption Commission, the country is losing a third of its state budget – the equivalent of about $6 billion – to corruption every year and corruption has permeated key government sectors in east Africa’s largest economy.

Read: Kenya: Jailed doctors’ union officials released but strike continues

The opposition has always highlighted corruption in the government, but President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Jubilee administration have always reacted by defending the suspects, calling the opposition names and rolling out a series of public relations activities meant to sanitize the theft and shield the thieves.

The recent strike by doctors, which paralyzed the health sector is a case in point, where the health ministry has been unable to pay doctors and nurses according to an agreement reached to improve the welfare of workers and infrastructure of the dilapidated public hospitals. There are allegations that the Health Minsitry has continued to loot funds meant to improve public medical facilities.