By Thomas Bwire and Juliet Imani
Kenya, a country that was not left behind by the global pandemic Covid-19. It brought the world to a standstill as respective countries came up with containment measures to save lives.
On the other hand, the silence behind the scenes happenings took center stage as some health officers mandated to save guard lives of Kenyans ended up earning money through corrupt means. They produced genuine Covid-19 certificates to administer the non-existence vaccine of choice to clients who parted with money and did not want to follow the right channel.
We investigate where the gaps were coming from? Did the Kenyan government record the right data to capture negative tests recorded and vaccines administered during the pandemic period?
Our secret cameras recorded how easy it is to obtain a genuine Covid-19 certificate and a vaccine once payment in the form of a bribe is offered.
We obtained covid-19 certificates without having to test and Johnson and Johnson vaccine without getting the actual jab.
An investigation has raised serious concerns about the actual data that is captured by the Ministry of health and released to the public in regards to the data on Covid-19 related cases countrywide.
The invasion of Covid-19 in the country’s first cases was formally announced on 12th March 2020, thus leading the government to come up with stringent measures to help minimize the spreading of the virus. The majority of Kenyans depend on government services and over a period of time covid-19 testing public campaigns were initiated and thereafter followed by vaccine uptake.
On the other hand, this gave room to flood gates opening up as some key health officers got involved in facilitating issuance of genuine covid-19 certificates and even virtual vaccines. This exercise took place as money exchanged hands in forms of bribes.
Corruption practices came into play and fast-tracking services to citizens who wished to beat the system and get the required documents for work or travel. This is entirely facilitated by responsible health officers mandated to abide by their ethical values.
As of 26th February 2022, according to the Kenyan Ministry of Health (MOH) through the National Emergency Response Committee on Covid-19. A total of 16,533,328 vaccines had been administered across the country. Of this number,7,780274 people had the partial vaccine while those fully vaccinated stood at 7,539,852. However, the Covid-19 statistics and the entire system that feeds into the World Health Organization (WHO) database may not be a true picture as we found out.
24th January 2022 the owner of Checkups Medical Centre Dr. Moka Lantun and three of his employees came face to face with the law and were arrested for allegedly issuing fake Covid-19 certifications to passengers at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. This came after Kenya was issued a Red Alert by the Middle East after certain Kenyan travelers were found possessing fake Covid-19 Covid-19 certificates.
Dr. Patrick Amoth, the Ministry’s Acting Director-General, wrote to Checkups Medical Centre in a letter dated January 14th prohibiting them from giving trusted travel codes to travelers. The Ministry of Health also suspended Covid-19 testing at the facility for a period of about three months.
Strict measures were then re-introduced as the Ministry of Health issued a directive that only government health facilities be mandated to undertake the issuance of Covid-19 certificates.
Our homework began by narrowing down a few government health facilities to try to test the system whether the rightful procedure is dutifully followed by the health officers mandated to undertake Covid-19 tests and administer Covid-19 vaccines
We conducted our research by first checking online public health facilities across the country mandated to carry out the above relevant services. Our targets were narrowed down to four counties, Machakos County, TransNzoia County, Kericho and Kajiado County.
Our task was simple: try to obtain a PCR Covid-19 certificate and Covid-19 vaccine without being tested or getting the actual jab.
To crack open these secretive and behind the scenes processes of obtaining a negative Covid-19 certificate and virtual Covid-19 jab investigative journalists Francis Odee, Juliet Imani and Thomas Bwire spent 5months and posed as customers planning to travel within and outside the country.
The first stop is at the Machakos Level 5 facility. Our drive with our undercover reporter takes about 4 hours due to the ongoing construction of the Nairobi Express Highway Road along Mombasa road. The traffic snarl-up was slow and, in most instances, slowing us down to one spot for about 10-15minutes.
Upon arrival at the health facility, we drove into the parking lot that is close to the National Blood Transfusion offices and waited to see if we could be lucky enough to get to speak with someone. We step out of the car and walk towards the waiting bay where relatives of patients are sitting as they wait for the visiting hours. We bump into a staff member (we call him source one) and upon exchanging greetings the undercover reporter pauses as a person who needs to get a negative Covid-19 certificate.
Source one seems a bit shaken and not sure if he can continue engaging with us. We assure him that it’s a genuine case and that we just want our friend the undercover reporter to get a negative Covid-19 certificate. Hesitating a bit, source one agrees to engage with us more. He takes us to a deserted spot within the health facility premises. He admits that it is possible to get a negative Covid-19 certificate, but the process can be facilitated through underground. means. “Mnataka kwenda Mayolos? Meaning”You guys want to go abroad? We happily nod our heads up and down movements to indicate a positive response.
Source one then continues to share the department he works at the health facility. “I work in ward no 6. I can be of help guys.” he says.
“Where do you guys want to go?” He poses a question to us and we uniformly answer “Dubai.” Quickly the source one disengages with us and asks us to follow the right channel. “I cannot help you guys. He walks away from us and throws his right finger-pointing in our faces from our meeting point. “Please follow the right channel at ODP”, adds source one.
We are left wondering what to do next. We decide to go out of the health facility and have some lunch as we plan again on how to strike. “We cannot just go back to Nairobi after one attempt.” We console each other and walk to get a meal at a local restaurant.
One hour later we come back to Machakos Level 5 and wait patiently near the children’s ward. We happen to see a grounds man (we call him source two) slashing the overgrown green grass and call him to attention. At first, he was a bit hesitant to speak to us. But we calmly greet him and ask how his day is faring. “Work is good,” he responds.
We calmly ask if he knows someone stationed at the laboratory who can help our undercover reporter get access to a free negative certificate. Seeing that we are serious, he asked us to wait and walked in the direction of the lab to get more details from one of the staff members.
In about 30 minutes (source two) comes back and explains to us that yes indeed we can be assisted to get a negative Covid-19 certificate. This comes with cost implications though. The lab guy needs to be paid Ksh2.000 ($20) and our grounds man (source two), also needs to be paid Ksh.1.000 ($10) for negotiating on our behalf.
We all agreed and drove back to Nairobi county. On our way, we agree that yes, we have good public officers. We compare our first ever contact (source one) to the integrity chapter of our constitution.
Kenyan Constitution Chapter 6 on Leadership and Integrity. Clause 73 part 2(b) It states: the guiding principles of leadership and integrity include a person who is objective and impartial in decision making and ensures the decisions are not influenced by nepotism, favoritism, and improper motives, or corrupt practices.
Two days later we drove back to Machakos Level 5 health facility to meet our source two at 11 am, as agreed, the previous day via a phone call conversation. The only document needed for this mission is a national identification card (ID).
It’s on a Saturday and lesser crowds can be seen in comparison to a normal working day.
Upon alerting him that we are on the ground he comes and after exchanging greetings, he picks up our undercover reporter’s ID and disappears through an inner corridor. After about 20 minutes, source two resurfaces. “Bro your issue has been sorted out, just give it like 20 minutes and you will receive an SMS and a WhatsApp message, ” says source number two.
In a few minutes, our undercover reporter gets a new message alert and ‘Bingo’ he receives a PCR certificate indicating he tested negative.. “Let us print it out to confirm it’s genuine,” says our undercover reporter. Source two agrees before we can pay for the service.
We drive to a local cybercafe within the city center of Machakos county and get the document printed. It partly reads under the Review Note: The patient was run with positive and negative controls. The patient sample tested PCR NEGATIVE for SARS-COV-2. The document contains the official hospital letterhead and approval signature dated 12.2.2022
As we drive back smiling having netted our first fish from the fish pond, we are left with more questions than answers. Is the Ministry of Health being fed with the right data from health facilities across the country?
Our undercover reporter has managed to get a virtual Covid-19 test conducted without him undergoing the right mandated procedure. An exercise that requires samples taken from a client, in accordance with the required health protocols through screening and samples collected for laboratory analysis. Our undercover reporter sample was taken from him.
According to the Penal Code, ‘’Any person who forges any document or an electronic record is guilty of an offense which, unless otherwise stated, is a felony and he is liable unless owing to the circumstances of the forgery or the nature of the thing forged some other punishment is provided, to imprisonment for three years.’’
An emphasis that the advocate high court lawyer, Laibuta Mugambi agrees to.
He says that even when a document comes from the government system without following the right channel it is a forged document.” This document does not provide authenticity it deserves, that means it is not genuine as the document tries to misrepresent facts or state what is not factual, it is indeed a forged document.” adds Mugambi.
After successfully obtaining our first certificate, we opted to go for the real people behind the syndicate. The men in the laboratory at Machakos Level 5 health facility. So we contacted the number that sent our undercover reporter the Covid-19 PCR negative certificate and requested if he can facilitate two more.
Through our OSNIT research, we get to know his real name but we shall not use it here and refer to him as ‘Martin’. We get in touch with him after another week and ask if we can facilitate getting us two more negative PCR certificates. He agrees through a WhatsApp chat to meet him on February 17th, 2022.
We drove back again to Machakos County. On arrival at Machakos Level 5 hospital, we proceed to the laboratory area but this time around we have another person with us who will pose as a colleague and plans to travel for work outside Nairobi county. Our guy has not been tested before for Covid-19, so his status is unknown.
After waiting for almost 45 minutes in the laboratory waiting bay, a call is made to our Laboratory guy (source three) and notify him of our presence. Later, we are able to connect, and we meet along the pavements always outside the laboratory block. We then proceed to sit in an open area that is not crowded or has any patients sitting on that spot with brown wooden benches.
While seated here we explain our case and this time around our undercover reporter introduces me and another person whom we came with as clients who need negative PCR covid-19 certificates. He agrees to assist and says that the process will be smooth.” Let me have their ID details”, he says I hand over my national ID and our second character whom we shall not give his name here also gives out his ID.
Using his phone, the laboratory guy then takes portraits and photos of the front details of the ID that shows the ID number. He then hands them back to us. We get to engage with him briefly before we can let him go. This is meant to get more insights and secure key additional recordings that we can use as evidence in the face of the public interest. “How much do we need to pay you now for two clients?” Our undercover reporter asks, laughing our laboratory guys jokingly ask the reporter to name his price Just name the price, “you are the boss. How about Ksh 2,000 ($20) for each? He asked us?” This will make it Ksh.4,000 ($40). A deal is finally agreed upon and we settle on this last figure of Ksh.4,000 ($40).
Within 20 minutes we are done with our negotiations and (Source three), not his real name, excuses himself and walks toward the laboratory to facilitate the issuance of negative PCR Covid-19 certificates. He asks to later meet us at our car to collect his whole payment. Done deal indeed Ksh.4,000 ($40) is to be paid for this process.
We learned during our engagement that the money is also shared with other team members within the laboratory. It’s not a one’s man show. We walk casually to our car and wait as instructed.
Again, just like the other time we paid him to obtain a genuine negative PCR Covid-19 certificate.
After about 20 minutes source three comes back and we direct him to meet us in our car through a phone conversation. Once inside he shares via WhatsApp PCR certificates that indicate we tested negative.
Before letting him go, we also express an interest and ask source three if he can also help us get a negative-Covid-19 certificate that can facilitate one to travel outside the country.
“We don’t do that here, but he mentions that he has friends in other facilities only mandated by the Ministry of health to facilitate the issuance of certificates one can use for travel. Once you guys are sure of the dates just alert me” he adds. We pay the fee in full Ksh.4,000 $40 and part ways.
We then leave Machakos level 5 hospital having successfully obtained negative covid-19 certificates without undergoing any tests conducted.
Once again, we have beaten the system in their own game, two of us have virtually tested negative for Covid-19 without following the right channel. That makes the documents in our possession so far to be three in total up to now. Documents obtained at a government health facility.
With my undercover partners, our next travel route will take us approximately 391 kilometers from Nairobi to Kitale’s Trans-Nzoia county. This time around we will sample another government health facility if we can obtain another negative result Covid-19 certificate but this time round we want both, a vaccine and PCR Covid-19 certificate.
After about 5 day of ground work in advance we hit the road and head to TransNzoia County. The county welcomed us with showers as we arrived late evening via road trip. We drove in shifts, a journey that took us about 7hours and 50minutes.
The following day, full of energy and all looking positive we confidently navigate to Kitale District Hospital. We get a nice spot to park the car. Our undercover reporter without any insider to help us navigate the hospital decides to give it a trial by randomly approaching an employee of this health facility.
After locating the laboratory, with his secret cameras, our undercover reporter singles out a young man with a white lab coat leaving the laboratory. He approaches him politely first by exchanging greetings and tries to seek clarity if he can be of assistance. “Can you help me get a Covid-19 certificate without testing?” asks the undercover reporter.
The staff dressed in white lab coats say it will not be possible, he is not the right person to help out but introduces someone else. In their engagements, he asks our undercover reporter if he knows staff members by the name of Sande and Kizito (not their real names). Our undercover reporter nodes his head sideways signifying that he does not know any of them.
He then instructs our undercover reporter to wait for him as he tries to get someone in the laboratory to help him. But all turns negative, takes the reporter’s contact details and they part ways. He leaves but never calls back.
As a team, we agree to wait and give ourselves more time. This takes us about 3hours hoping that the first contact person may call our undercover reporter. Indeed, we are not losing hope and we later agree, to try approaching someone else to accomplish the mission. Our undercover reporter walks a few spots within the facility and meets another employee.
He gets to be informed about the purpose of the discussion and happens to agree to assist. He does not even ask why our undercover reporter wants to use shortcut means to obtain a negative results Covid-19 certificate.
They agreed to meet after about 5 minutes in our car. True to his word, our contact person now (fourth source) comes with another person to meet us at our packed spot. They get into the car and sit in the back seat. Introductions take place and our two new contacts seem a bit shaken and hesitant about our mission.
But when the element of money to be paid for their service is mentioned the doubts take a back seat. In a local vernacular language, a phone call is made to another contact who joins us and we drive out of the hospital facility to get into business. In total, there were five guys in the car.
This means we are going to get a PCR Covid-19 certificate from a different facility, not Kitale Hospital where our target was laid. The guy who connected us to the main guy demands his cut even before our undercover reporter receives his certificate.
“Let us sort the fee amount, it will cost about Ksh.6.500 ($65) for this engagement. The amount will be shared among the 4 guys,” says our contact person. We try to negotiate for a lesser fee, but the contacts stick to his gun “This is even a fair price” says our main contact link person (source number four)
So as not to be seen that we are not serious, we agree on the service fee and that will be paid upon service delivery.
We get to know that the third contact is the one with the logging details, He pulls his phone from his trousers and requests to get details of our undercover reporter.
“Your name,” he asks for his ID number, “oh by the way, which vaccine do you need us to record,” “Johnson’s and Johnson’s. “Answers our undercover reporter
In a record time, the virtual vaccine is administered and entered into the hospital data for the day’s vaccines administered. We realize we are transacting a covid 19 vaccination certificate deal. To our amazement, this is all “virtual” Meaning that our undercover reporter has not received the actual jab but only his details recorded within the health facility portal. His name, his national Identification card, phone number, and a referee. We ponder later on how the ministry of health in Kenya is able to release this data to the public. Indeed, there are disparities on actual vaccine administered and PCR Covid-19 negative certificates.
The next phase is to get the PCR certificate. Recommendations from our sources hint that our undercover reporter visits Mt Elgon health facility to undertake the actual tests. The only document will be required is the national Identification card (ID)
At the lab, our undercover reporter is forced to undergo a real test for the safety of the hospital. Samples are taken from him and so as to raise any alarm. Our source mentions that it is meant to protect the hospital from any wrongdoing by following the due process.
Once this has been done, the agreed installment that now totals to Ksh,6,500 ($65) is paid to source number four and we part ways. We leave and await to receive a PCR genuine certificate that will be sent to the phone number of the undercover journalist.
How possible is it that our undercover journalist is being offered documents from the system by a medical team in government health facilities?
Is the system corrupted? Or the individual medical team are the ones who are corrupt? Yes, we have seen this firsthand, Money exchanging hands and no one questions why you don’t want to follow the right channel.
Before leaving the county back to Nairobi county, we receive some information from a distressed family that their father allegedly tested positive for Covid-19 in May 2021, later died and buried immediately in accordance with the ministry of health regulations at that time. This makes us extend our stay by two more days. We make plans to visit the family the following day.
In the village of Kapomboi village in Trans Nzoia county, we pay a courtesy call to the family of the late Samuel Katam Kirwa. An interview with the son brought forth pain about the real cause of their father’s death. He believes that if it was indeed Covid-19 then he should be dead by now. “I washed my late dad, clothed him and always kept in contact with him when he fell sick and was admitted to the hospital. I should also be dead by now.” ponders the son
Sentiments that are also shared by the wife. She too believes that her late husband did not die of Covid-19. “His body would have been wrapped and not allowed for viewing even at the morgue indeed,” she says. The family members only had a chance to view the body at the morgue, but funeral protocols were followed to the latter during the burial rites.
We once again decide to test the system, and plan to share the deceased copy of his identification number and see if indeed, the dead can test negative for Covid-19.
With approved family consent, they share copies of the national ID, death certificate copy, and a letter detailing positive results for Covid-19 when Kirwa died.
We drive back to the city and after about two day of rest we reach out to our (source three) based in Machakos county. We remind him of two people’s intentions to travel abroad, South Sudan and if he can still facilitate the process of obtaining a Covid-19 certificate that can facilitate smooth travels across borders. “You will facilitate the process with about Ksh. 6,000 per person.” ($60) This means if two of you are traveling that makes it Ksh.12,000 ($120) so that we can sort everything.” says source three
In the phone conversion Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) Kericho county is mentioned as an institution that will help produce a traveling Covid-19 certificate with negative results.
Later on, Saturday afternoon, we shared the ID details of our undercover reporter and that of the late Peter Katam. This is in agreement that we are to travel the following day on Sunday March 12th, 2022. Also, we only send half of the cash for facilitation and not the whole amount. By the end of the day, we receive both certified two copies negative travelers Covid-19 certificates. Both certificates had genuine travel codes. Left in shock and disbelief about our country’s system, how can a dead person still end up testing negative for covid-19?? Our minds are pondering these questions for days.
We dig deeper and find that the certificates are trusted under the following emails (trusted travel.panabios.org) and Africa CDC.
Our last stop and fourth county was Kajiado county Namanga health facility. Located at the Kenya Namanga border. Mission to try obtain genuine Covid-19 certificate. Luckily this facility never fell into our trap, our mission was never archived.
Before going to press, we reached out to respective health facilities that assisted in getting negative covid-19 certificates and even a non-existent vaccine for Right of Reply.
Our first stop starts at Machakos Level 5 hospital for right of reply. Chief Officer Lucas Mwove grants us an interview in his office. We present our findings to him. He admits that the names of the key staff members appearing in the PCR certificates we obtained work in the facility. “I want to say that I appreciate you for bringing this to my attention. If any member of staff will be found culpable, then our HR disciplinary actions will be taken into account.” says Mwove.
We also reached out to Kericho County CEC Claire Wanyama to seek right of reply, The Trans Nzoia County CEC and Kenya’s Ministry of Health respective officials mandated to speak with the media. By the time of this publication, we were unable to get any response from the above three key health institutions on our findings.
This investigation was supported by the African Investigative Journalism Conference, the Gates Foundation and the Henry Nxumalo Foundation.