The South Africa National Defence Force has accused the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority of acting on behalf of Western Pharmaceutical monopolies. This is according to a report of the Ministerial Task Team (MTT) probing the procurement of COVID-19 drugs from Cuba by the SANDF.
In a briefing to the Defence Portfolio Committee the MMT says while it did not see any evidence to support this, it could not dispute it either.
SAHPRA has been in dispute with the Defence Force since it emerged that the military had imported Interferon Alpha-2B without following proper protocols.
The SANDF has maintained that it needed the Cuban drugs in order to protect its members who were deployed to enforce the lockdown. It emerged during the briefing that the then Surgeon General Zola Dabula was sold the idea of the Interferon by the Cubans while visiting that country for reasons that had nothing to do with COVID-19.
He had gone to assure military cadets studying medicine in that country about the status of their qualification once they return home. Based on the briefings he received in Cuba, he convinced the military top brass to consider bringing the drugs to South Africa.
Member of the Ministerial Task Team, Cassius Lubisi says, “The Cubans indicated that the coronavirus had landed in Cuba but that they were dealing with it using Interferon Alpha 2B and they were using it as an immune booster or immune modulator on members of the RAF as well as the general public. General Dabula and his delegation were showed preliminary studies as well as anecdotal evidence on how the drugs kept hospitalisation among the armed forces as well as the general public to a bare minimum.”
The leadership of the Defence Force, Lubisi confirmed, went ahead without bothering to check with the institutions established to regulate the use and importation of drugs into the country.
They relied on a bilateral agreement between the SANDF and the Cuban Armed forces signed by then Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and Chief of Defence Force, General Solly Shoke. And, following a litany of broken undertakings by the SANDF in their efforts to get SAHPRA to approve the use of Interferon, they told the MTT that the regulator was an agent of foreign interests.
One of the recommendations of the Ministerial Task Team was for half a million vials or doses to be returned to Cuba to limit the financial losses that would result from their expiring without being used. This was similar to recommendations made by SAHPRA previously. The Chief of the SANDF General Rudzani Maphwanya informed the committee that they had indeed returned the drugs.
“In line with the MTT recommendations and the instructions of SAHPRA for us to either take back the medicines or have the medicines destroyed or find ourselves with medicines that have expired, the SANDF has since complied and sent the drugs back to Cuba. We are writing letters to both the SAHPRA and AG as the interested parties.”
Minister Thandi Modise is ill and was not able to attend the meeting. For this reason, the report was not given to the committee except for the presentation by the Task Team.
The committee decided therefore not to have a discussion on the matter until the minister is back to present the report herself.