By Gatonye Gathura
The rise and rise of Dr Nicholas Muraguri to the powerful post of Principal Secretary for health and chief accounting officer has really been meteoric but not without drama.
Barely eight years ago in 2008, Dr Muraguri was a middle level officer heading the little known Division of Health Promotion at Afya House.
Further down the road in 2001 he was a Medical Officer at a small hospital in the former Eastern Province.
His real march to the dollar started in August 2008 when the then Cabinet Minister for Public Health and Sanitation Mrs Beth Mugo, a close relation to the First Family, picked him as Director of the National Aids and STIs Control Programme (NASCOP).
A favour he seemed to have been returning last week with a State like launch of the private run Beth Mugo Cancer Foundation.
The colourful event attended by among others the First Lady, Margret Kenyatta, Cabinet Secretary for Health Cleopa Mailu and potential donors had effectively overshadowed other players in cancer charity.
It is notable that early this year, bewildered by the huge number of groups claiming to work in cancer, 80 stakeholders had met in Nairobi to try and bring some order in what was developing into a house of Babel.
Back to NASCOP things were not smooth for young Dr Muraguri who was largely seen as a second wife forcing herself into an already consummated monogamous union.
Already NASCOP had a substantive director in the less combative Dr Ibrahim Mohamed appointed by the sister Ministry for Medical Services headed then by Prof Anyang Nyon’go.
“It was very confusing, when you called wanting to talk to the director today you were put to Dr Muraguri, tomorrow to Dr Mohamed,” says Standard journalist Jeckonia Otieno.
Dr Muraguri was however to quietly leave NASCOP in May 2012, after a four and a half year period to join a nondescript UN establishment called Global Plan as director.
Though it is not clear why he had left NASCOP, what is true is that he had jumped a ship on fire.
Following a 2012 audit of its malaria and HIV money, the Global Fund, had demanded a refund of Sh270 million stolen at the Ministry of Health
The audit had uncovered endemic levels of theft and corruption in all Global Fund programmes at all levels, from the Ministerial Procurement Committees right up to transport officers and drivers.
While the corruption was shown to be widespread in all government agencies handling Global Funds cash, it was indicated to be highest at NASCOP, the National Aids Control Council and the Division of Malaria Control.
However an understanding was reached between the fund and the ministry on how the monies would be repaid without unduly embarrassing the thieves.
A similar understanding has been reached in the current theft of vaccine money between the donor GAVI Vaccine Alliance and the Ministry of Health.
Two years at the Global Plan, Dr Muraguri’s star seemed to have dimmed especially with UN bodies discouraging unnecessary media contacts by its workers.
“By 2013 and with a Jubilee win he was sure of coming back to Afya House in a substantial way,” says our source.
But the then Cabinet Secretary for Health Mr James Macharia, seemed to have been reading from a different script when on assuming power he announced a new administration structure.
He had promoted a new team which among others included senior officers Dr Francis Kimani, Dr John Masasabi and Dr William Maina.
Dr Kimani had been made the Director General, a position that did not exist legally while the others were made full directors to head various divisions.
However shadowy hands had pressured Mr Macharia into retracting the new promotions with blood spilling all over Afya House.
The soon to retire Dr Kimani went back to his old post of Director of Medical Services while Dr Maina and Dr Masasabi were unceremoniously dumped to some nondescript outposts.
This did not go well with most other senior medical officers at Afya House especially when word went round Dr Muraguri was being groomed to take over from Dr Kimani.
“Dr Masasabi and Dr Maina are especially senior in all ways and stand out for the post and we think this is why they are being pushed around,” a source had told us then.
Most humiliated was perhaps the then long serving, highly articulate and media friendly Director of Medical Services, Dr Shahanaz Sharif who was left sit in a functionless office, with no title while waiting for his retirement day.
Then in 2014 the way was open for Dr Muraguri to come in as the new Director of Medical Services, but definitely with an eye for the yet to be created post of Director General for Health.
The fight for this post is one of the issues holding the crucial Health Bill in the legislative process since Jubilee came to power.
Dr Muraguri’s first duty on assuming office was to accompany the First Lady to the London Marathon as her personal doctor.
He has been a major architect of the Beyond Zero campaign and a darling to major donors for his capacity to pull in political goodwill at the highest levels to the cause.
But his first real test was from the poorly handled Catholic Bishops rejection of tetanus vaccines over claims they had been contaminated with infertility drugs.
Dr Muraguri had assured the country independent tests would be carried out in several foreign countries.
But when the final results were presented at the University of Nairobi’s School of Medicine boardroom it emerged the test had been done at a facility in Nairobi’s Industrial Areas dealing with agriculture produce for export.
Agriq Quest Limited of Nairobi was later, through the media, to slap the Ministry of Health with a bill of Sh13.7 million for the vaccines’ tests.
At the time we at the Standard Media had requested Kenya Medical Research Institute for a quotation for a similar test which they put at about Sh 170,000.