Court orders national health department to disclose details of Covid-19 vaccine contracts

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Tax payers have the right to know how their money was spent.

The National Department of Health has less than 10 days to hand over all the copies of the Covid-19 vaccine procurement contracts to the Health Justice Initiative (HJI). This follows a court judgement handed down by the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Thursday.

This is after HJI, a health equity advocacy organisation, won its legal battle against the health department.

It had brought forward an application to compel the Department of Health to disclose all the Covid-19 procurement contracts which they have with both manufactures and suppliers.

HJI had requested access to copies of the Covid-19 vaccine procurement contracts, and agreements between the Department of Health with Johnson & Johnson, Aspen Pharmacare, Pfizer, Cipla, Sinovac, and the African Union Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, and the Solidarity Fund.

No need for secrecy

HJI founder Fatima Hassan says that the victory paves the way for greater transparency on health procurement in South Africa.

“What this means to the future of health procurement in the country is that there really should be no secrecy. The court was very clear about the fact that the confidentiality clause in the contract does not override the public interest to have access to Covid-19 contracts,” Hassan says.

“Now we have to wait for the department to disclose the contracts in the next few days. Once we’ve studied the contracts we’ll be in a position to see what is written and what actually transpired in this pandemic.” 

South Africa began with the roll-out of Covid-19 jabs on the 17th of February 2021, using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine which was administered as a single dose.

According to the The National Institute for Communicable Diseases vaccination is a safe and simple way to strengthen the immune system to build resistance against disease-causing viruses and bacteria.

Hassan says that the court also found there were no grounds to suggest that future negotiations between Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers and suppliers, and the Department of Health would be prejudiced by this ruling. 

No to bullying

“This is really significant for all future health procurement. More attention must be paid to transparency. The bullying by pharmaceutical companies who demand this very high level of secrecy has to stop,” she says.

Hassan says that they are eager to see the contents of the contracts in question. 

“Because we do not know what the clauses are relating to non-delivery or excess supplies or the return of supplies in terms of the vaccines and that will all be in the contracts,” she explains.

Another key aspect highlighted by the court judgement is the public interest in the disclosure of the Covid-19 vaccine procurement contracts.

She says that the public has the right to know and that the principles of transparency and accountability have to be upheld all the time.

“What this judgement means to the public is that when people are asked to contribute to the state taxes towards the health budget, they need to know what the money is being spent on. People also need to know why certain policies exist and the terms and conditions of various contracts.” 

She says that this will enable the public to demand greater transparency and accountability, not just of the Department of Health but of the manufactures and suppliers of vaccines.

On Thursday  the National Department of Health released a media statement about the court ruling.  

“The Department of Health has noted a court judgement delivered by the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Thursday, 17 August in which the department was ordered to grant the applicant (Health Justice Initiative) access to copies of all Covid-19 vaccine procurement contracts, non-disclosure agreements and the related documents,” reads the statement.

The department said it would study the judgement and respond in due course.-Health-e News.


  • Ndivhuwo Mukwevho

    Ndivhuwo Mukwevho is citizen journalist who is based in the Vhembe District of Limpopo province. He joined OurHealth in 2015 and his interests lie in investigative journalism and reporting the untold stories of disadvantaged rural communities. Ndivhuwo holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Media Studies from the University of Venda and he is currently a registered student with UNISA.

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