A decision by the health ministry to rope in the middlemen in the procurement of the sought-after Covid-19 vaccines has been met with criticism.
Last week, the ministry, through its Central Medical Store, advertised a tender for pharmaceutical companies who have valid manufacturing or trading licences in Namibia to procure, supply and deliver one million doses of Covid-19 vaccines.
Government intends on spending N$583 million on the Covid-19 vaccination roll-out plan, of which N$484 million would be utilised on the procurement of the doses.
However, the decision to bring in the middlemen, instead of engaging manufacturers directly, in the vaccine acquisition and distribution process, has been heavily criticised by the public – and among others, the People’s Litigation Centre (PLC).
In a letter, dated 12 March, directed to, among others, the health and finance ministers, PLC questioned why government is not procuring the vaccine directly from the manufacturers or immediate agents and do away with middlemen who would allegedly inflate the prices. The ministry’s invitation for bids refers to manufacturers on the World Health Organisation (WHO) Emergency Use Listing (EUL).
Although there are 15 manufacturers listed, only three have WHO’s final stamp of approval.
“It is no secret that the procurement of medicine in Namibia are marred by reports of middlemen who inflate prices of medicines supplied to government and are further at times reported not to deliver at all or deliver substandard medicines,” PLC claimed in the letter.
Attempts to reach both health minister Dr Kalumbi Shangula and executive director Ben Nangombe proved futile. Nangombe’s phone went unanswered, while Shangula was unreachable.
The pressure group is of the view that the acquisition of the vaccine should be treated by government with a level of seriousness, which protects the Namibian people from “unscrupulous middlemen”.
“We are writing to yourself as the custodian of the state treasury and plead that you urgently intervene and cancel this bidding process – and to ensure that procurement of vaccines is treated as an emergency,” noted PLC.
PLC has warned that should it not receive favourable response, it would consider other avenues to “ensure that the procurement of vaccines in Namibia is done promptly, government resources are used sparingly, and the money allocated procures as many vaccines as possible – and does not fall into the pockets of middlemen”.
Despite many countries taking delivery of the vaccines, Namibia is yet to receive a single dose.
Vaccine doses are only expected in the country later this month.
Shangula last week explained the delay was mainly due to the pharmaceutical products that took a long time to be registered and be approved by the Namibia Medical Regulatory Council.
According to him, this process took long, as the regulatory body also had to determine the side effects of these vaccines Namibia plans to acquire.
Namibia is expected to take delivery of nearly 130 000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine later this month through the Covax scheme.
Apart from the Covax facility, Namibia is in discussion with manufacturers of Covid-19 vaccines in China, Russia, India and the United States for additional vaccine supply to cover the remaining 40% of the population.
The Indian government has pledged 30 000 doses of vaccine from the Serum Institute of India, while the Chinese pledged 100 000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine.