Attacks on SA health products regulator uncalled for: Kubayi

Amanda Khoza Presidency reporter
Acting health minister Mmamoloko Kubayi denounced the EFF for marching in protest against the Health Products Regulatory Authority and for intimidating women.
Acting health minister Mmamoloko Kubayi denounced the EFF for marching in protest against the Health Products Regulatory Authority and for intimidating women.
Image: GCIS/Jairus Mmutle

Acting health minister Mmamoloko Kubayi on Wednesday defended the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) leadership against ongoing attacks.

“I hope members [of parliament] will stand with us and say that what happened against Sahpra’s leadership is uncalled for,” said Kubayi.

Kubayi was speaking during a portfolio committee on health meeting in parliament on the acquisition of vaccines, vaccine rollout and an update on the new Delta variant. The acting minister was referring to an EFF march against the authority at which the party demanded  the approval of more vaccines, particularly those from Russia and China.

Kubayi denied allegations by the EFF that the regulator's Dr Helen Rees was conflicted because her husband was allegedly linked to Aspen.

“We need to protect institutions in this country and not [allow] for individuals to be intimidated, because we will battle later to find professionals who are willing to serve. When we fight, we personalise matters. Worse, it was women who were attacked and literally threatened,” said Kubayi.

On vaccines, Kubayi told MPs that the Delta variant, though it has not completely replaced the earlier Beta variant, was continuing to increase in dominance.

Health department deputy director-general Dr Anban Pillay said that while the Delta variant was sampled in India in October 2020, it’s now been detected in 85 countries, several of them in Africa. The variant was now the dominant strain driving the third wave of infections as it is more transmissible than the previous circulating variants in SA.

“Higher levels of transmission mean more people will be infected and more infections mean higher hospital admissions,” he said.

MPs were not pleased with Kubayi and Pillay. Among them was committee chair Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo who asked the department if it was reconsidering procuring the AstraZeneca vaccine, given the latest developments.

Replying, the department said it would not rule that out at this stage.

Should that decision be taken, deputy minister Joe Phaahla said, there would be no need to reregister AstraZeneca with Sahpra as it had previously been registered.

Giving an update on vaccine uptake, the department's Dr Nicholas Crisp said that, as of Tuesday, there were just under four million people registered on the government's online portal.

On Wednesday the government surpassed the three million vaccination mark. “Obviously, 480,000 of those are from the Sisonke trial from J&J and the rest are those that have been done since May 17,” he said.

Crisp said the total population registration coverage was around 53% of the target population. This varied from province to province, with the highest percentage of people being registered in Limpopo (74%).

Crisp said: “We are confident that we will start to pick up speed very quickly and at least for the month of July and the first week of August we are confident about our vaccine supply. Beyond that we are still in the process of stabilising the vaccinations supply.”

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