SANDF’s Covid-19 ’vaccine’ acquisition probed
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Pretoria - The Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, has launched an independent investigation into allegations regarding the SANDF’s intelligence division purchasing of a controversial drug, Interferon-B, from Cuba for R215 million.
The minister announced that the task team would consist of former inspector-general of intelligence Zola Ngcakani as chairperson working with two other officials to look into the allegations that arose late last year over the buying of the drug, intended for treating Covid-19.
Mapisa-Nqakula said she expected the team to prepare a report within six months, with recommendations to address any wrongdoing uncovered – whether of a criminal or disciplinary nature, and to also include broader recommendations on how to stop such behaviour and prevent it in the future should any of the allegations be confirmed.
The Hawks and SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) tried to confiscate the drug at the SA Military Health Services depot in Pretoria, but they were turned away after a confrontation.
The SANDF allegedly purchased the drug for the treatment of Covid-19, even though it did not have the approval of Sahpra.
There were also allegations that the drug may have been smuggled into the country on the plane that Cuban doctors were sent on to aid in the fight against the pandemic.
There were some questions and concerns surrounding the planning, procurement, transportation and storing of the drug, prompting the attention of the Military Ombudsman.
However, the SANDF in January defended its decision to purchase the drug, saying it was purchased on an emergency basis following the outbreak of the pandemic.
The force said it had embarked on extensive consultations with other countries’ military forces to see what was available to mitigate against soldiers being compromised in their front-line duties.
“Objective data shows that more than 8 000 subjects in Cuba, Pakistan, Iran, Ukraine, Brazil and others have safely benefited from Heberon use. Furthermore, other Western countries followed suit.
“It should be placed on record that the SANDF communicated with the Cuban military, and in these exploratory talks it was revealed that the use of Interferon alfa-2b as an immune-modulator in the management of Covid-19 was beneficial to patients who had tested positive, and those who had been in close contact with a positive person.
“In fact, evidence is mounting that countries that use Heberon have lower mortality rates due to Covid-19,” said the SANDF.
This argument was, however, dismissed by some health and defence experts who said the drug actually had no benefit for Covid-19 patients, as studies revealed.