Responding to a wide-range of probing questions from MPs serving on the parliamentary portfolio committee of health on Thursday, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, who was at some stage asked by chairperson Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo to “take a glass of water”, did not have much of a breather.
Among others, pertinent questions raised by MPs included:
South Africa’s financial preparedness to procure Covid-19 vaccines doses for its citizens.
Clear timelines on the rollout plan.
Government’s reluctance to introduce the Ivermectin drug to fight the virus in the absence of a vaccine.
Whether vaccines were mandatory.
Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Siviwe Gwarube found it hard to accept Mkhize’s explanation that negotiations with vaccine manufacturers were “a sensitive matter” to disclose.
“It is important to know what is on offer. We can’t look at bailing out failing SOEs (state-owned enterprises) when we can’t fund vaccines, which is a priority,” remarked Gwarube.
Guns blazing, Economic Freedom Fighters MP Naledi Chirwa said: “Perhaps this needs to be answered by the finance minister – how much budget do you have to fight Covid-19?
She added: “On what basis are we creating a strategy when we don’t know what vaccine is to be used in South Africa? This country cannot depend on charitable aspirations of the Solidarity Fund.
“The fact that you have not delivered on the vaccines is because money was looted, with no one having taken accountability for regression and failures. We don’t seem to have money.”
African Christian Democratic Party MP Marie Sukers remarked: “Across the nation, people are mourning and that puts pressure on us as public elected representatives to improve communication, so that we can give answers.
“We have seen a number of deaths, with people dying because ambulances cannot get them to hospitals on time.
“I have personally driven Covid-19 patients to hospital. The biggest challenge is how to get people who live in shacks to quarantine sites.”
Responding to a question from DA MP Haseena Ismail on whether citizens would be compelled to take vaccines, Mkhize said: “We would like to see everyone taking the vaccines. But they will be taken voluntarily and not mandatory – for the benefit of people who may have moral, ethical or religious grounds not to.”
Mkhize urged National Freedom Front Party MP Ahmed Munzoor Shaik Emam not to go ahead with his threat of legal action against government for failure to administer Ivermectin, while the country was waiting for a vaccine.
Shaikasked: “Why is SAPHRA (South African Health Products Regulatory Authority) not prepared to review evidence on Ivermectin, when there has been 100% recovery recorded in the United States, China and in other countries?
“With an overwhelming 100% success rate and Ivermectin having won the Nobel Peace Prize, SAPHRA is refusing the drug. The only problem is that it is cheap and nobody is going to make money.”
Mkhize said the department was prepared to work with Shaik and there was “no need for you to go to court”.
“SAPHRA was not in a position to register Ivermectin, with the ministerial advisory committee sharing the same view. Although there have been no clinical trials on the drug, SAPHRA will not stop any applications,” added Mkhize.