An analysis shows that only 28% of personal protective equipment (PPE) suppliers that benefited from R2,5bn in emergency pandemic expenditure were licensed by the medical products oversight body, reports Daily Maverick.
Scorpio’s months-long data investigation into COVID-19 expenditure reveals that the nine health departments collectively sourced personal protective equipment (PPE) and related goods from 550 companies. Of these suppliers, only 155, or 28%, were licensed by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra), the country’s watchdog for medical devices, PPE and related products for the healthcare sector, says Daily Maverick.
The departments altogether spent roughly R2.5bn on millions of surgical masks, respirators, digital thermometers and other goods for staff and patients at government hospitals and clinics. The R2bn paid to unlicensed vendors means nearly 80% of the provincial health departments’ expenditure for these vital goods ended up in the accounts of companies that aren’t subjected to any regulatory oversight.
These revelations come amid fears that PPE of inferior quality may have jeopardised the safety of healthcare workers who risked their lives on the frontlines of South Africa’s battle against COVID-19.
Daily Maverick reports that the latest investigation draws on reams of procurement data released by the National Treasury in late August in a bid to bring about much-needed transparency in the wake of the country’s multibillion-rand expenditure drive in the early months of the pandemic. The Treasury data was compared with Sahpra databases bearing the names of nearly 2,000 companies that are licensed to manufacture, import or sell medical goods in South Africa.
This exercise revealed that each of the nine provincial health departments apparently eschewed licensed companies, some considerably more so than others, and instead directed a disconcertingly high proportion of their PPE spend towards unlicensed vendors.
“There is no excuse, a procurement officer at a health department needs to check if a supplier is licensed by Sahpra,” said one industry insider who has helped draft regulations for medical devices. This source asked to remain anonymous because the organisation she works for does not allow her to speak to the media.
For Kingsley Tloubatla, chair of the Black Pharmaceuticals Industry Association (BPIA), the matter is “unambiguous and clear”. Tloubatla, who also runs a Sahpra-licensed medical goods company, says the Medicines and Related Substances Act prohibits companies or individuals from selling medical devices, including PPE, without a licence.
According to Daily Maverick, Tloubatla is incensed by the fact that the provincial health departments spent most of their money on goods from unlicensed companies while businesses like those that belong to the BPIA had gone to great lengths to secure their licences from Sahpra.
Sahpra, meanwhile, says it is investigating a large batch of unlicensed PPE companies with the assistance of the SIU and the Hawks. “Over 100 companies are being investigated by Sahpra for supplying PPE for medical purposes without Sahpra’s medical devices licence,” said Sahpra spokesperson Yuven Gounden.
Full Daily Maverick report