Citizen Reporter
2 minute read
1 Dec 2021
4:06 pm

Cuban pill crisis: Sahpra seeks to destroy Covid drug illegally bought by SANDF

Citizen Reporter

The SA Military Health Service came under fire for purchasing Hebron for more than R200 million without approval from the regulator.

Picture for illustrative purposes: Ashraf Hendricks

The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) says it will confiscate and destroy 970,000 vials of the Cuban drug, Hebron, which was illegally procured by the South Africa National Defence Force (SANDF) last year.

Sahpra CEO Dr Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela on Wednesday said they had written to the South African Military Health Service giving them a deadline of 30 November 2021 to return the drugs to Cuba because they were procured without authorisation from the regulator.

However, Semete-Makokotlela said Sahpra did not receive any acknowledgment from the SANDF on their letter, which was sent on 6 November.

“We have tried to address this matter and these interventions have not been fruitful.

“We have to operate as per our mandate and what our Act requires of us in that this product was to be returned to Cuba or we’ll have to confiscate and destroy the product,” she said.

Semete-Makokotlela was speaking during her presentation to Parliament’s oversight committee on defence and  military veterans.

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The SA Military Health Service came under fire last year for purchasing Hebron at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic for more than R200 million without approval from Sahpra, which is tasked with regulating all health products that are used in South Africa.

Semete-Makokotlela said on Wednesday they had sent another letter to the military asking for evidence and proof that the drug had been returned back to Cuba.

She said they were expecting a response from the military between Wednesday and Friday, or else they would have to seize and destroy the vials.

“We’ve given them until Friday [to respond to us]. If we don’t receive this evidence that this product has been returned, our team is ready then to go and confiscate the product,” Semete-Makokotlela said.

Hebron brought to SA by Cuban delegation

She said Sahpra was informed that the drug was brought into the country by the Cuban delegation that came to South Africa in April last year to provide technical assistance on the country’s battle against Covid-19.

“We did have a concern around how this product had come into the country because typically, as Sahpra, we work with the Department of Health at all the ports of entry and we were not notified because it didn’t come through those ports of entry…

“Had we known about this, I think we would have acted immediately because we would have been notified of the lack of authorisation,” she said.

Semete-Makokotlela added that there was no scientific data that justified the use of Hebron for the management of Covid-19.

She also raised concerns that the batches procured by the SANDF were expected to expire in March 2022 and July 2022, respectively.

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