Members of the EFF march to the offices of the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) to demand that the organisation speed up the approval of Sputnik V and Sinovac vaccines within seven days. File photo: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)
Members of the EFF march to the offices of the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) to demand that the organisation speed up the approval of Sputnik V and Sinovac vaccines within seven days. File photo: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

Political parties blast EFF for SAHPRA vaccine threat

By Samkelo Mtshali Time of article published Jun 27, 2021

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Political parties have slammed the EFF for its threat to hold a sit-in at the house of South African Health Products Regulatory (SAHPRA) if the body does not approve the use of the Sputnik V and Sinovac vaccines within seven days.

The threat came on Friday as the EFF held their March To Save Lives march to SAHPRA’s office where they delivered a memorandum of demands to SAHPRA CEO Dr Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela in which they demanded that the organisation approves the use of the Sputnik V and Sinovac vaccines by the end of the week.

The red berets also demanded that SAHPRA Chairperson Professor Helen Rees resign from her position, saying that Rees’ husband was involved with pharmaceutical company Aspen which is a partner in the manufacturing of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in Gqeberha.

The EFF accused SAHPRA of not approving the Sputnik V and Sinovac vaccines from Russia and China respectively, due to a conflict of interest on Rees’ part.

However, several political parties have come in defence of the health products regulatory body and its chairperson in the wake of the EFF’s threats.

Dakota Legoete, ANC National Executive Committee member, said that SAHPRA was not an individual but a body established by the government to ensure that all health products coming into the country or produced within the country were regulated.

“A family home is a private space, and we do not encourage that (the sit-in) as the ANC to be done to anybody or for anybody to be attacked because you would traumatise the kids, house mates. Whoever lives in that house would be traumatised.

“They are going to be traumatised by something that does not have to affect them, that does not have anything to do with them, so we would not encourage that because a family space is a private space, and within a democratic space, it is important that we respect spaces of individuals irrespective of positions that they hold in society,” Legoete said.

Siviwe Gwarube, DA spokesperson and member of parliament’s portfolio committee on health, said that they found the EFF’s threat “incredibly worrying” as any health system in the world that is set up in a healthy way has an independent regulator, and SAHPRA as the regulator in South Africa needs to remain independent.

“It cannot be that political parties put pressure on the regulator for certain vaccines from certain manufacturers to be approved.

“Ultimately, SAHPRA’s job is, through its clinical trials and all the expert knowledge and resources that they have available to them, for them to approve vaccines that are not only safe for the people of South Africa also effective against the variants in South Africa but also the ones that we can use with ease,” Gwarube said.

She added that the country could not allow political parties meddling in the work that a regulator is meant to do because once a regulator is no longer apolitical, not entirely independent, then the country would have problems.

“In that case, political interests would drive the health response whereas science must drive the country’s health response,” Gwarube said.

Another party that has also criticised the EFF’s was the IFP, whose Chief Whip in parliament Narend Singh said that the threat was completely irresponsible, adding that SAHPRA was a professional body made up of professionals who take decisions that are in South Africa’s interests and not in the interests of particular service providers of vaccines.

“It would seem that certain political parties are punting certain service providers from certain countries,” Singh said.

He also slammed as irresponsible the thousands of marchers who took to the streets in the EFF’s March to Save Lives in Johannesburg, which is the epicentre of the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country.

In a statement, SAHPRA spokesperson Yuven Gounden said that the regulatory authority would not allow political pressure to cloud a clear science-based approach to approving health products where the safety of the public could be compromised.

“It will be a sad day in the country when the regulator is undermined or influence by any party. SAHPRA does not favour any applicant as alleged by the EFF, and allegations made against the SAHPRA board chair, Professor Helen Rees are totally unfounded an false,” Gounden said.

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