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SANDF spends R200m on unapproved Cuban COVID drug

The SA National Defence Force is secretly spending more than R200m on a Cuban COVID-19 treatment that the health regulator has not registered for use to treat symptoms of the virus, reports Mail & Guardian.

It writes that a senior official in the South African Military Health Service (SAMHS) has blown the whistle on the military paying R35m for 130 000 doses of the Interferon-Alpha-2B drug – enough to treat 8,600 military personnel – and is to make another payment of R182m for a consignment that has already been delivered.

SANDF spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini had not responded to questions at the time of publication. According to a confidential internal report by Major-General Lesley Ford, the chief director for military health service support, the drugs cannot be used because the defence force did not make the necessary applications before procuring them.

“The drug is not SAHPRA [South African Health Products Regulatory Authority] approved for use within RSA. A post facto application has been made to SAHPRA for the first batch of Interferon subsequent to the receipt in the depot [but has] seemingly not been granted to date,” Ford said.

The payment could have been deliberately made against an “incorrect expenditure classification to avoid detection”, Ford says in his memo to senior defence force leaders including the surgeon general, the chief of staff and the chief of logistics.

“At no stage was any SAMHS projection of Covid-19 infections close to this number of patients. Therefore the basis of calculation that informed this already seemingly controversial transaction may not have been concluded with reasonable care,” he said.

They cannot be used because the defence force did not make the necessary applications before procuring the drug. The procurement was not captured on the SAMHS inventory, he said, and was done without following due process.

The import of the medicines in April was hidden from the inter-ministerial committee appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa to investigate all COVID-19 related corruption. A check of the defence department’s list, which was submitted in August to the inter-ministerial committee, did not include Interferon as part of the expenditure.

This is the second instance of a deal between the defence force and the Cubans falling foul of due processes. The M&G previously reported that the auditor general flagged a R900m contract signed by the SANDF chief,General Solly Shok, in 2014 ,to have 150 Cuban mechanics fix old army trucks.

[link url="https://mg.co.za/article/2020-10-22-b-sandf-hid-r200m-expenditure-on-covid-drug-it-cant-use/"]Full Mail & Guardian report[/link]

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