South African National Defence Force senior generals thought the country was involved in a biological war, which caused them to buy R260-million worth of useless medicine from Cuba to fight Covid-19.
These generals saw themselves as a first line of defence in this biological war and wanted to be injected first with the Heberon Interferon alfa-2b medicine, Rapport reported.
These bizarre facts emerged during a session of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans.
Last year, media reports revealed the SANDF spent millions on Interferon alfa-2b (Heberon Alfa R) from TecnoImport, a Cuban state-owned company – despite the Department of Health banning it from being used to treat Covid-19.
To add insult to injury, around 40% of the consignment of Heberon Alfa R was lost because the cold-chain supply was not adequately managed.
It was illegal for the SANDF to import medicines without the required permission, and the Auditor General and the Hawks have since launched investigations into the issue.
As part of its investigation the Hawks tried to raid the South African Military Health Service’s depot in Pretoria.
This, the Sunday Times reported, lead to an embarrassing standoff with the SANDF military police who sent the Hawks officers packing without confiscating any drugs as planned.
The SANDF then issued a statement defending its decision to acquire the medicine to fight Covid-19.
“Interferon B is a drug that has been manufactured in Cuba and has been safely used worldwide for over 30 years,” it said.
“There has since been a great interest in the drug and its efficacy as an immune-modulator in mitigation of Covid-19 complications including death and need for hospitalisation.”
“Objective data shows that more than 8,000 subjects in Cuba, Pakistan, Iran, Ukraine, Brazil and others have safely benefited from Heberon use.”
It said evidence is mounting that countries that use Heberon have lower mortality rates due to Covid-19.
The SANDF said its proactive approach was informed by the generally-accepted understanding the military is a line of defence in all countries.
“Defence forces around the world are well known for their medical research for protecting their own forces and results of that research has had beneficial impact on the wider society just like other technologies that have been developed by the military,” it said.
“The South African Military Health Services duly applied for Section 21 for the use of the drug to SAHPRA and got approval on 5 October 2020 for the proposed use detailed in that application.”
No scientific rationale
Professor Shabir Madhi from the school of pathology at the University of the Witwatersrand disputed the SANDF’s view.
“There is no scientific rationale for doing a clinical trial of Interferon alfa-2b as it has already been shown to be ineffective in the WHO solidarity trial in the treatment of Covid-19,” he said.
As if the situation could not get any stranger, the SANDF has now revealed that it viewed the Covid-19 pandemic as biological warfare.
Speaking to parliament, the SANDF’s Maj-Gen Mzikayise Tyhalisi said they had been instructed by President Cyril Ramaphosa to put boots on the ground in April 2020.
The military then swung into a “process of planning of the employment and protecting of these forces”.
“The military in this case has the sole capability of chemical and biological warfare,” it said. “We did not know how this enemy was going to behave,” Tyhalisi said.
The Military Council, the highest strategic decision-making body of the SANDF, said it seemed to be a biological warfare problem.
South African Medical Service (SAMS), a service branch of the SANDF, was then tasked with finding a solution to this problem to protect their soldiers.
SAMS found Interferon, which they regarded not as a treatment, but as a prophylactic biological product to deal with a biological threat to address a military problem.
Tyhalisi said the purchase of Interferon should not be seen as a line item. Instead, it was a purchased to support the fight against a military biological threat.
The SANDF added that wartime planning and execution, as was the case here, can always be viewed and judged harshly with the benefit of hindsight and a peacetime perspective.