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THE Health director-general has launched an investigation into how officials in the Treasury and the Department of Health bought 4.5 million HIV testing kits that were banned by the World Health Organisation.
Health officials allege it was the Treasury that had finalised the decision to spend R22 million on the kits from SD Bioline, despite warnings from both the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and their departments about the WHO caution.
Treasury spokesman Jabulani Sikhakhane said: “Treasury will be reviewing all the decision-making processes around this tender. The decision was taken after a meeting late last week with the Health Department.”
But Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi told The Sunday Independent yesterday that “junior” officials on both the Treasury and the Department of Health’s side were responsible for the botch.
“It does not mean health officials are clean in this. We cannot put the blame squarely on the Treasury. The junior officials should have come to their principals and said this was the problem they were experiencing, and how could we deal with it,” Motsoaledi said.
He has since issued a national instruction for the tests not to be used until further notice.
The international health body last year issued the advisory that the SD Bioline HIV testing kits, which are produced in Korea and imported into the country, were problematic, as they were providing false results.
But in June the Treasury awarded a R22 million contract to a local company to provide the kits to the nine provinces.
Motsoaledi said the tender for the procurement of the kits had been split into two. One company received 70 percent and SD Bioline 30 percent of the tender.
Health Director-General Malebona Matsoso said she had requested the relevant information and that the director-general in the Treasury had been informed.
“Both of us are investigating what went wrong.”
But The Sunday Independent understands that the problem happened at the bid adjudication stage of the tender.
According to Dr Anban Pillay, deputy director-general of health regulations, procurement of the kits was a transversal tender, as it was required by several government departments, and therefore needed to be run by the Treasury.
“The administrative departments must give specifications to the Treasury on what kind of tests they want.”
He said the SD Bioline kits were only used for screening, which is the initial test, but that a second test is done by another company when a person is found to be HIV-positive.
He said all the bidders had to provide a sample of their kits, which were then tested by the NICD.
SD Bioline had received a positive result in the NICD tests.
Pillay said they had contacted the WHO to explain their results, but were told that the problem with SD Bioline was in a batch-by-batch variation.
Pillay said SD Bioline kits had been used by SA in the past and were subjected to batch-by-batch tests. There had never been any problems with the tests used in the past.
The tender was advertised in April and awarded in June.
“Treasury was alerted of the caution from the WHO by both the NICD and the health departments, who were in the bid adjudication meeting, but decided to go ahead with the product,” Pillay said.
He said that, according to reports he received, only the Gauteng Health Department was in the meeting, and not the other eight provincial departments. He could not explain why they were not involved.
“I think that if there had been more provinces, there would have been more debate around this matter.”
Pillay said they would investigate how the decision was made to procure a test of a substandard quality. Even though the NICD had given the SD Bioline tests a positive result, the WHO warning would mean that the Department of Health would have to do additional batch-by-batch testing.
He could not say how many provinces had placed orders with the local supplier for the tests.