SG admits “wrongs committed” with Cuban COVID-19 drug import


Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) heard “wrongs were committed” during the acquisition of a Cuban drug said to assist in the prevention of COVID-19.

The committee met virtually for a second time in a week to consider oral presentations around the apparent Military Command Council (MCC) approved decision to spend some R260 million on Heberon from Cuba.

The admission of “wrongs” came from SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Surgeon General, Lieutenant General Zola Dabula. He did not elaborate and was taken to task by Democratic Alliance (DA) parliamentarian, Kobus Marais, without an adequate response.

After an unsuccessful attempt to have Dabula explain why the South African military brought the drug – unapproved by local regulatory authorities – into the country, Marais said “it appears the Surgeon General does not want to answer my question”.

A further attempt at obtaining response was stymied by PCDMC chair Cyril Xaba. He told the shadow defence and military veterans minister there is “still work in progress” between the medical service of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) and the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA). In part this relates to the possibility of a Heberon clinical trial in South Africa at an as yet unspecified time in the future.

The PCDMV heard from senior SAHPRA representatives of the high cost and complexity of a Heberon clinical trial. For one it would mean relabelling all vials of the drug needed for the trial making them unidentifiable so a placebo can be part of the trial.

Xaba indicated the oversight committee would request another round with those involved, notably the SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) and SAHPRA, the body tasked with ensuring correct protocols and procedures are properly adhered to at all stages of regulating drugs and other medicines for use in South Africa.

Another unanswered Marais question, this one from the previous PCDMV Heberon meeting, was “why did the Department of Defence (DoD)/ SANDF import an unregistered and therefore illegal drug into South Africa?”