The country was the victim of “gross profiteering” by Big Pharma during the pandemic, a report has claimed
An investigation into South Africa’s procurement of Covid-19 vaccines has found that the country’s health officials purchased supplies from global pharmaceutical companies at inflated prices compared to many Western nations.
The Health Justice Initiative (HJI), an independent body formed during the pandemic to monitor the South African healthcare system’s handling of the crisis, said during a news conference this week that the government was “bullied” into accepting unfavorable vaccine deals via one-sided “ransom negotiations.”
“The [vaccine] contracts contain unusually hefty demands and conditions, including secrecy, a lack of transparency, and very little leverage against late or no delivery of supplies or inflated prices,” the HJI said in a statement on Tuesday. It added that this system led to “gross profiteering” and an “inability to plan properly in a pandemic.”
The terms agreed by South Africa’s government with Big Pharma companies such as Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson for the purchase of Covid-19 vaccines were the subject of a legal challenge by the HJI last month under the country’s Promotion of Access to Information Act.
A Pretoria court subsequently ruled in favor of the HJI, compelling the South African government to release the vaccine contracts in the interest of transparency and accountability.
The documents detailed that South Africa was liable for vaccine payments of $734 million. The terms of the agreements included no guarantees of a timely delivery or penalties for late arrival. It was also found that Johnson & Johnson charged South Africa $10 per dose of its vaccine – some $1.50 more than EU countries paid.
“The country was forced to overpay for vaccines, paying 33% more than the African Union price from the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and paying the Serum Institute of India 2.5 times more for a generic version of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine compared to the United Kingdom,” the HJI said.
The group claimed that the government’s practices throughout the pandemic “signals a dangerous precedent for future pandemic readiness,” and that “we were bullied into unfair and undemocratic terms in contracts that were totally one-sided. Put simply, pharmaceutical companies held us to ransom.”
According to publicly available data, South Africa has recorded 102,595 deaths from Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic. As of May 2023, approximately 65% of South Africans have received a vaccine against the virus.