Covid-19 vaccine procurement: Health Justice Initiative applies to join court battle

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  • AfriForum and Solidarity have taken the government to court over its vaccine rollout strategy.
  • The organisations are seeking a declaratory order so the private sector and provincial health bodies can procure and dispense Covid-19 vaccines.
  • The public health and law initiative, HJI, has filed papers to join proceedings. 

The Health Justice Initiative (HJI) has filed court papers asking to join a court case against the minister of health and 16 others which lobbied for the private sector to procure Covid-19 vaccines outside of the government.   

The public health and law initiative, set up to address the intersection between racial and gender inequality specifically focusing on access to life-saving diagnostics, treatment and vaccines, have applied to be what is commonly referred to as a "friend of the court".

The HJI wishes to provide expert evidence in the case brought by civil society group AfriForum and trade union Solidarity. 

Its position was that with high demand for vaccines and limited supply, private sector procurement independent and outside of a national strategy would place vulnerable and marginalised persons at higher risk.

HJI head Fatima Hassan said: "Any attempt at queue-jumping to access Covid-19 vaccines at the expense of others who need it more, will worsen pandemic outcomes and exacerbate and entrenched health inequities in our country. We need 'One Plan' for an effective and equitable vaccine rollout for our country."

Since the pandemic, the organisation has been involved in cases involving the overpricing of personal protective equipment where it also acted as "friend of the court". 

In January, AfriForum and Solidarity filed papers seeking a declaratory order allowing the private sector and provincial health bodies to procure and distribute a Covid-19 vaccine.

The organisations also want the court to declare the government's centralised Covid-19 vaccine strategy unconstitutional and unlawful. 

In its application, the HJI outlines the dangers of allowing private sectors and provincial governments to procure the vaccine due to the structural inequality and unequal access to healthcare systems in the country. 

"This case raises important questions related to the harm which may be caused by non-state actors and/or provincial government/s if they are authorised to procure vaccines, without oversight and overall management by national government, and outside a national strategy that includes all role players. 

The HJI in its papers said:

"ln an unprecedented health crisis, with global and epidemiological ramifications, South Africa's two-tier health system and wealth disparities should not result in greater inequity in access through unfair preferential treatment that is not based on health need and is instead based on access to financial resources or provincial advantage."

If its application succeeds, it will be supported by affidavits from various experts in the global and public health sector.

Meanwhile, AfriForum's case will be heard in court on 2 March.

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