The Department of Defence has been grilled in Parliament over its illegal importation from Cuba of nearly a million vials of the anti-viral drug, Interferon, at a cost of R260 million.
The first consignment of the drug landed in South Africa in April last week, together with Cuban medical personnel.
The drug is unregistered for use in South Africa and the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) only applied to the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) for authorization for its bulk use months later when it was denied.
SAHPRA rejected two such applications from the Department of Defence, in August and October, before finding out in November that the drug was already in the country.
Department of Defence officials have conceded procurement rules were flouted and the law was broken – but have tried to defend their action by arguing that the defence force was facing biological warfare when the COVID-19 pandemic struck last March.
The plan was for the Cuban interferon to be used as an immune booster for troops on the frontline in COVID hotspots and defending the borders and procuring it was seen as an emergency.
Only 10 vials of the drug have so far been used with the SAHPRA permission and on a single person.
The rest are in cold storage at a military depot in Pretoria.
The chairperson of Parliament’s committee on defence and military veterans Vusumuzi Xaba said the importation of the interferon broke almost every law governing the landing of a drug in South Africa and wanted to know what Minister of Defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula was going to do about it.
“Transgression of Section 21? Yes – obviously we will have to take action, and part of the action in my view should be the engagement that they have agreed on together with SAHPRA.”
Mapisa-Nqakula has ordered an investigation into the affair. The SA Military Health Service wants to arrange with SAHPRA for clinical trials of the drug to take place.
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