The Auditor-General is investigating the SA National Defence Force‘s import from Cuba of a “dubious and unregistered” Covid-19 drug, at a cost of more than R200m, despite a warning against its use by a top government advisory committee, reports the Sunday Times.
So far, only one patient is known to have been treated with 10 vials of the drug – Heberon Interferon-Alpha-2B – leaving the military health service with more than 900,000 vials of a drug it cannot use.
According to a preliminary audit report issued last week by the AG to the SANDF and the Department of Defence for comment, military officials effectively broke just about every law governing the importation and registration of medicines in SA, and effectively smuggled the illegitimate drugs into the country from Cuba.
The defence force went to extreme lengths to conceal the deal, doctoring customs documentation and using a payment code for training to mask that it was paying for the medication.
It’s not clear who in the military ordered the drug. The AG could not find evidence of any procurement process.
The seller is TecnoImport, a Cuban state-owned company that imports and exports technical products for Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior and Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. The company has had controversial dealings in the past with SANDF chief Gen Solly Shoke.
The Sunday Times understands that neither the defence force nor the department has investigated the matter.
“Basically they wanted to test the drug, with or without consent, on military patients in order to act as guinea pigs for the Cubans who were trying to convince the world that their drug was working against Covid,” said a government source with direct knowledge of the deal.
Shabir Madhi, professor of vaccinology at Wits University, described the defence force’s actions as “illegal”.
Full Sunday Times report
MedicalBrief Archives: SANDF spends R200m on unapproved Cuban Covid drug