Picture: 123RF
Picture: 123RF

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has been vocal on clamping down on Covid-19-related corruption, now has another  headache — a massive medicine purchase from Cuba — added to his plate. 

The presidency has said, however, that due process must be followed before it can comment on a damning preliminary report by the auditor-general, and whether it will take a tough stance on those implicated in it.

According to the report, the SA National Defence Force blew more than R200m on an unregistered Covid-19 drug from Cuba that had not been given the green light by the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority.

Tyrone Seale, acting spokesperson in the presidency, said that at this stage the presidency could not comment.

“The report in question is a preliminary report and the departments in question will therefore have an opportunity to respond to the auditor-general.”

The report says that the drug was smuggled into the country without a proper procurement process in place, that it was kept at the incorrect temperatures anyway, and that more than 900,000 vials bought with taxpayers’ money now sit in storage and cannot be used.

The report also says that the defence force concealed the deal and that there is no clarity on who ordered it.

Meanwhile, SA is continuing with its trials to assist other global players in trying to pin down Covid-19 treatments that are safe and effective.

Shabir Madhi, a vaccinologist at Wits University who is heading up the trials, said: “With our University of Oxford trial, enrolment was completed and we are now following up with participants to see who got infected. When we have 52, we can do an analysis. We are nowhere near there as the first wave has subsided, so we will only reach targets when there’s a resurgence.”

Regarding the Novavax trial Madhi said that they are still enrolling participants and hope to be done by the end of the month.

There is also the Johnson & Johnson trial, which started last Friday.

Testing any other drug that has not gone through the correct phases of a clinical trial is dangerous, and the import of such drugs is “illegal”, said Madhi.

He said that “importing medicines into the country, whether for clinical trials or treatment, without the required permission … is against the law”.

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