SANDF says it has returned unregistered Covid-19 drugs to Cuba

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The SANDF has to return Covid-19 drugs to Cuba.
The SANDF has to return Covid-19 drugs to Cuba.
Roger Sedres, Gallo Images via Getty Images
  • Vials of the Cuban-made drug have been returned, the SANDF says.
  • Heberon is not registered in SA and it is ineffective in the treatment of Covid-19.
  • In December, Sahpra gave military bosses an ultimatum to provide evidence the drug had been shipped back to Cuba or face having it destroyed.

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has returned all the vials of the so-called Covid-19 miracle drug Heberon, which it had procured and subsequently imported illegally.

On Wednesday, the chief of the SANDF, General Rudzani Maphwanya, told Parliament that all vials of the Cuban-made drug had been returned.

"The SANDF indeed had an engagement with the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra). I want to indicate that we have returned all that was required to be returned. So we have not confined ourselves to the 500 000 vials. Sahpra has received a report so far," he said.

In December, Sahpra gave military bosses an ultimatum to provide evidence that the drug had been shipped back to Cuba or face having it destroyed.

READ | SANDF’s R200m Covid-19 drug deal with Cuba only signed after first delivery - Auditor-General

In April last year, the SANDF spent nearly more than R200 million to import Heberon Alpha R 2B, manufactured by a Cuban-Chinese company.

Interferons are proteins used in the body as part of its natural defence against viruses. There is, however, no scientific proof that the drug is effective in treating Covid-19 and it is not approved or registered for use in South Africa.

In April, News24 reported that the Department of Defence and Military Veterans could not account for the 970 000 vials of Interferon it had imported from Cuba.

According to the inter-ministerial committee investigating the matter, Cuban state-owned company Tecnoimport had issued the SANDF with three invoices for the three consignments.

Cassius Lubisi, a member of the committee, said the invoices were received by the Operation Thusano office in the logistics division of the SANDF.

"Invoice number S-0080 was issued on 30 April 2020 for the first consignment of 130 000 vials at a total amount of (USD) $2 015 000. This invoice was misclassified as payment for vocational training services under Operation Thusano and was initially recorded as such in the books of the DoD. This was subsequently corrected on 5 October 2020 and correctly classified as drugs under Operation Notlela. Invoice S-0080 was approved for payment by the chief of logistics Lt-Gen Jabu Mbuli on 30 June 2020 after his personal intervention with the budget management office on the same day," he said.

READ | Looming budget cuts will lead to the SANDF becoming weaker, older, and less skilled - expert

An amount of R33 496 973.60 was ultimately paid, as the invoice was based on the rand/dollar exchange rate on the day of payment.

Two other invoices for a second and third consignment have not been paid.

One unpaid invoice is dated 2 July 2020 for an amount of $10.9 million.

An invoice for the third consignment, dated 17 August 2020, totals just over $2 million.

Lubisi said:

The CFO, Mr Siphiwe Sokhela, disputed invoices for the second and the third consignments, citing irregular procurement processes that were undertaken during the procurement of the interferon, even though the AGSA did not raise SCM issues with the procurement of the interferon from the documents seen by the MTT.

He also said the Cuban Embassy in South Africa had written to then Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, requesting the return of 500 000 vials of the drug for urgent use in Cuba, "given the real risk that the Interferon would expire before it can be used in South Africa".

The Cuban government had promised to replace the 500 000 vials should the regulatory issues dogging the use of Interferon be resolved at a later date, Lubisi told MPs.

UPDATE : A bullet in this story was updated to note that Heberon was ineffective in treating Covid-19. 

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