Devex Newswire: Kenya’s HIV drug shipment is stuck in diplomatic limbo

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A huge shipment of HIV medication is stuck in limbo at Kenya’s port of Mombasa due to a dispute between the U.S. and Kenyan governments — leaving patients without treatment.

Instead of extending its contract with the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority, the U.S. government opted to distribute a batch of antiretroviral drugs through its own consortium, led by private contractor Chemonics International. The Kenyan government responded by threatening a large import tax, causing an impasse that civil society groups charge is putting people’s lives at risk, Sara Jerving reports from Nairobi.

• Civil society representatives said Tuesday that Kenya’s stock of Kaletra, the antiretroviral treatment used for children, is completely exhausted. Meanwhile, stocks of ARV needed to treat 1.2 million HIV positive people in the country are running dangerously low.

• As civil society groups characterize the situation, Kenya’s government has offered to waive the import tax it initially demanded — but is still insisting that drugs be dispensed via its own system, rather than those of the private contractor. An arrangement with the Global Fund is set to provide drugs for three months as a stopgap.

• HIV patients are already skipping doses without access to multimonth supplies of medicine, since traveling regularly to get new doses is often impractical or prohibited due to COVID-19.

• While U.S. officials describe the dispute as a diplomatic issue, health experts and patients see it as one of life and death. People living with HIV gathered in downtown Nairobi on Tuesday holding signs that said: “Don’t ration my ARVs,” “You talk, we die,” and “Don’t make us orphans.”

Read: Supplies run low as Kenya and US standoff over HIV drugs

FLYING BLIND

“We know that cutting U.K. aid to countries like Yemen will have catastrophic effects, but it beggars belief that the FCDO is making these cuts without doing a proper assessment of their impact.”

— Alastair Russell, spokesman at Save the Children UK.

An official with the U.K.’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office admitted Tuesday — after repeated questioning — that the government did not undertake an impact assessment before cutting assistance to Yemen by nearly 60%, Will Worley reports.

Read: No impact assessment ahead of Yemen aid cuts, UK official admits

HELP ME HELP YOU

The World Food Programme and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro have reached an agreement that will allow the agency to deliver food inside the country, Teresa Welsh reports.

• Maduro has long denied the severity of Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis, which has caused an estimated 5 million Venezuelans to flee since 2015.

• In 2019, Maduro blocked an aid convoy that attempted to enter the country from Colombia, leading to a standoff at the border. International organizations have struggled to operate in the country.

• The announcement of the deal follows reports that Venezuela will not be able to access currency reserves — known as Special Drawing Rights — from the International Monetary Fund until a government gains official recognition.

BRANCHING OUT

Vince Chadwick reviewed a 30-page presentation on the European Investment Bank’s plans to reorganize how it invests outside Europe. The new setup, which the bank says would require “no additional EIB capital,” is pitched as a “better-tailored business model” for work outside the EU.

Devex Pro: EIB makes its move on development restructure

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END OF AN ERA

In the wake of President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September, I reached out to a handful of humanitarian and development organizations to ask their positions on the policy. Many of them declined to say whether or not they support the move — some citing humanitarian neutrality.

The ambivalence reflects a bigger question facing organizations that have been involved in America’s large-scale military campaigns, says Andrew Blum at the University of San Diego. As the political winds shift away from long American conflicts, aid groups and peace builders face a moment of reflection over the role they played, and a moment of uncertainty about what the future holds.

Read: As US pulls out of Afghanistan, aid groups consider role in ‘endless wars’

PUT YOUR HEADS TOGETHER

As the heads of the world’s multilateral development banks gather today, Nancy Lee and Mauricio Cardenas Gonzalez at the Center for Global Development argue there is a missing piece in the MDB architecture. “MDBs typically engage individually with client countries and not much with each other,” they write, calling for a new “cross-MDB governing body.”

IN OTHER NEWS

The 2021 World Press Freedom Index has been released, with Burundi making the biggest gains and Myanmar falling the furthest since last year. [RSF]

Myanmar has announced that the leader of its military junta will be attending an ASEAN summit in Jakarta this weekend, despite consternation from other ASEAN members on how to deal with the recent coup and bloodshed. [Nikkei Asia, Reuters]

An Afghan peace summit in Turkey has been postponed until after Ramadan due to the Taliban’s refusal to attend. [Al Jazeera]

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About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.