A DISPUTE between the government and the private sector over the latter’s plans to procure 200 000 Covid-19 vaccines is threatening to derail the private sectors’ participation in the fight against Covid 19.
Dubbed the Sesiu Sa Letšoele Le Beta Poho, (unity is power), the private sector initiative was launched amid pomp and fanfare two months ago by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro at business mogul Sam Matekane’s MGC building in Maseru.
Despite a glittering ceremony last month to launch the private sector-led initiative to procure Covid-19 vaccines to complement the government, the two sides are now at loggerheads with Health Minister Semano Sekatle accusing the private sector of shopping for the vaccines from unapproved sources.
In an interview with this publication yesterday, Mr Sekatle said although the private sector was welcome to assist the government in the Covid-19 fight by procuring vaccines, it still had a responsibility to procure them from approved sources like the African Union (AU) as the government was doing.
He said the government would not stand idly by and allow vaccines to be brought into the country from unapproved and untrustworthy sources.
His remarks followed a press release by the Sesiu indicating that they would place an order for at least 200 000 AstraZeneca vaccines on condition they were granted government approval.
Initially Sesiu had intended to bring in the Russian made Sputnik V vaccines but the government put a brake on the plans saying it would only approve the purchase of the vaccines after they had been approved for use by the World health Organisation (WHO).
Following the Sesiu statement, Mr Sekatle yesterday said the private sector would not be allowed to bring in vaccines which he said had not been sourced from an approved supplier.
“We had agreed that they (Sesiu) should wait for the World Health Organisation to approve the Sputnik V vaccine before we can grant them permission to procure the vaccine for use in Lesotho,” Mr Sekatle said.
“That was the arrangement we had agreed on but I was later surprised to learn that they had procured the AstraZeneca vaccine which is totally different from the Sputnik V vaccine which they had initially said they procure.
“What is more, they had not used the official channels which the Ministry of Health had proposed. We had said they should buy vaccines from approved sources. It appears the private sector sourced their vaccines from a supplier called Alibor Investments.
“Vaccines are not supposed to be bought from shops like underwear. They are supposed to be purchased from an approved supplier. They should procure vaccines from approved suppliers that we, as government, are dealing with.
“If they now want to purchase the AstraZeneca vaccines then they should join the government and even pay for the ones we have already ordered. I will not respond to the nonsensical things they are now suggesting,” Mr Sekatle said.
This publication searched for Alibor Investments on the internet and only found a departmental shop going by that name in Barcelona, Spain.
Contacted for comment about Minister Sekatle’s remarks, Sesiu executive secretary Phafane Nkotsi denied procuring vaccines from dodgy unapproved dealers.
He said if the minister had any reservations, he should have communicated them in writing instead of doing so in the media.
“The minister must respond to our letter in writing explaining why he is not granting us the authorisation,” Mr Nkotsi said. “We initially wanted to procure Sputnik V vaccines but we have every right to change the vaccines because the vaccines market is in a constant state of flux. It changes all the time and just because we could not get the other one (Sputnik V) it does not mean we cannot get another one (AstraZeneca).
“He (Sekatle) must formally write us a letter explaining that we have not been granted the authorisation and cite the reasons rather than go to the media. He must respond to us the same way we approached him,” Mr Nkotsi said.
The Prime Minister’s press attaché, Buta Moseme, distanced the office of the Prime Minister from the squabble.
“The Health Ministry is the office that deals with procurement of vaccines not the prime minister’s office,” Mr Moseme said.
At the time of the private sector initiative, Mr Matekane said they had sought quotations from the manufacturers of the Johnson & Johnson; Sputnik V; Sinopharm and Pfizer vaccines. He said only the Sputnik V vaccines from Russia were readily available.
The private sector subsequently sought authorisation from the Health ministry to place an order for the Russian vaccines which was however turned down because Sputnik V had then not been approved by WHO.