The President of the United States of America’s (US) proposal to reduce ‘unnecessary expenditure’ on foreign aid and diplomacy programs by 28% in his first budget proposals that emerged a few days before the International Women’s Day commemorations will prove a real blow to stakeholders involved in improving and protecting the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of women in Kenya and other developing countries if approved by the US congress.

Revelations of the proposed cuts come shortly after Brian Woody, a high-ranking official at US Agency for International Development (USAID) Kenya, suspended financing for several Ministry of Health programs. According to Woody, this move was influenced by some USAID partners who have not met certain unspecified conditions. The shocking news, delivered on May 8th, casts a dark gloom over recent gains made in bridging the gap in healthcare access for many rural communities.

The shocking news, delivered on May 8th, casts a dark gloom over recent gains made in bridging the gap in healthcare access for many rural communities in Kenya that rely on this aid.

It is possible that these far-reaching directives are instigated by allegations of graft and misappropriation of aid funds that has dogged Kenya in the past. For instance, the Global Fund is currently in the country to investigate whether any of its grants to the Ministry of Health have been embezzled. The

USAID finances various health programs in Kenya that include tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV. The donor organisation is questioning how its allocation of Kshs 50 billion for 2014-16 was spent after the Kshs 5 billion scandals that plagued the ministry last year.

 

                                             US ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec

Additionally, Robert Godec, the US ambassador to Kenya, has stated that USAID has withdrawn Kshs 2.1 billion in funding to the Health Ministry citing corruption, poor accounting procedures, and unaccountability.

A statement posted on the Kenyan US Embassy website dated 9 May 2017 states that the action is intended to ensure that health care spending reaches those in need, and to protect U.S. taxpayer money.

“We took this step because of ongoing concern about reports of corruption and weak accounting procedures at the Ministry.” reads the statement.

The majority of USAID-sponsored programs are focused on strengthening maternal and child health, nutrition, family planning, and HIV/AIDS interventions. Moreover, there are also initiatives designed to bolster the devolution process by encouraging governance, democracy, and conflict resolution.

However, Woody asserts that purchases for equipment and commodities linked to life-saving treatment, prevention, disease outbreaks or emergency response are exempt from this directive.

Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung (DSW), a German NGO that sponsors sexual and reproductive health, and population interventions, has urged the Kenyan government to expedite the deliberation and resolution of issues raised by Godec. Notably, the US is the Global Fund’s biggest donor, and there are fears amongst local NGOs that other donors might freeze aid funding to Kenya.

To put the residual impact of a widespread aid freeze into perspective, Kenya’s entire HIV/AIDS programs that are externally financed will be suspended, affecting many families that cannot afford ARV drugs. Awareness initiatives will also be in serious jeopardy as recent statistics show an upsurge in HIV/AIDS infections among the youth. A long-term assessment of Kenya’s commitment is needed in ensuring the continuity of these projects.

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