The SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) will destroy 970,000 vials of the drug Heberon — touted as a wonder cure for COVID-19 — bought by the SA National Defence Force for R215m, if they have not been returned to Cuba.
The regulator had ordered the repatriation of the drugs by 30 November but had no response from the SANDF, SAHPRA’s CEO, Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela, told a parliamentary committee meeting on Wednesday (1 December), reports News24.
The Cuban product, containing recombinant human interferon alpha-2b, had been touted as a potential treatment for the coronavirus, and had been bought by the SANDF last year during the hard lockdown, but without the proper procedural channels being followed.
Semete-Makokotlela said they had written to the SANDF to return the drugs to Cuba by the end of November, but had received no acknowledgement.
“We have to operate … according to what the Act requires of us,” she said. “This product was to be returned to Cuba by 30 November or we will have to to confiscate and destroy it.”
She said they sent another letter on Wednesday morning (1 December) asking for proof the army had returned the medication, and had given them until Friday to produce proof, failing which a team from SAHPRA would confiscate the product.
In February, the army told parliament it wanted the drug to be used in clinical trials, despite 40% of the vials having not been properly stored, but Semete-Makokotlela said on Wednesday there were no clinical trials under way.
“We received an application on May 9, and sent queries to the applicant in July … There were many delays in responses and lack of responses. The last was in September when the military health services indicated they would procure the services of a clinical research organisation to conduct the trial for them as they were not able to adequately address our queries,” she said.
SAPHRA then replied to the SANDF that the body had not authorised the study because the military had failed to adequately answer queries.
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