SANDF lost 40% of dubious COVID-19 medicine because it forgot fridge doors open

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) spent R229 million on unregistered COVID-19 medicine from Cuba, and then lost 40% of the consignment because they forgot that the cooling rooms’ doors were open.

The Mail & Guardian reported in October 2020 that the SANDF spent millions on Interferon alfa-2b from Cuba despite the Department of Health banning it from being used to treat COVID-19 symptoms.

Interferon alfa-2b is an antiviral or antineoplastic drug which is typically used to treat cancers like leukemia and melanoma and virus infections like chronic hepatitis B.

The drug is based on the same protein that your body naturally produces – interferon – and was originally sequenced and produced in a laboratory at the University of Zurich.

It was also produced in the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology of Havana, Cuba, under the name Heberon Alfa R.

There have been clinical trials into the use of Interferon alfa-2b to treat COVID-19 symptoms, but do date there are no published results in peer-reviewed scientific literature.

South Africa’s Department of Health currently recommends against the use of interferon for the treatment of COVID‐19 in hospitalised patients.

This recommendation did not stop the SANDF from buying over R200 million of Heberon Alfa R from TecnoImport, a Cuban state-owned company.

Professor Shabir Madhi from the school of pathology at the University of the Witwatersrand said it was illegal for the SANDF to import medicines without the required permission.

He told the Sunday Times there was “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.”

Last year the Auditor General launched an investigation into the SANDF importing Heberon Alfa R despite the warning against its use by the Department of Health.

To make matters worse, the SANDF has lost around 40% of the consignment of Heberon Alfa R because cooling room doors were left open.

The Mail & Guardian previously reported that the Heberon Alfa R drugs have been stored inside the South African Military Health Service (SAMHS) base depot.

The Rapport newspaper has now revealed that the SANDF has destroyed 40% of the consignment because it left the doors of the cooling room where it was stored open.

This was uncovered by Auditor General investigators who visited the SAMHS base depot and found the doors were left open for more than a day.

The DA asked Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula for details about the issue last year, but she did not answer these questions.

Now read: Warning over vaccine delays and third COVID-19 wave in South Africa

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SANDF lost 40% of dubious COVID-19 medicine because it forgot fridge doors open