Media Statement from Health Justice Initiative
Judgment handed down on Covid-19 vaccine secrecy a victory for democracy.
Health Justice Initiative v The Minister of Health and Information Officer, National Department of Health (Case no 10009/22).
Thursday 17 August 2023; Today, South African courts upheld the principles of transparency and accountability when our government procures health services using public funds. The Pretoria High Court ruled in our favour in our bid to compel the National Department of Health to provide access to the COVID-19 vaccine procurement contracts. The Court ordered (per Millar J) that all COVID-19 vaccine contracts must be made public within 10 days.
This is a massive victory for transparency and accountability. The contracts concern substantial public funds, and the contracting process has been marred by allegations that the government procured vaccines at differential, comparatively inflated prices, and that the agreements may contain onerous and inequitable terms including broad indemnification clauses, export restrictions and non-refundability clauses.
This significant moment comes as we begin to emerge from the devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic. It sets an important precedent, especially as our government pursues National Health Insurance (NHI). With increasing reports of corruption within the healthcare sector, we cannot have a healthcare system shrouded in secrecy. Procurement must be held in check, as it will involve powerful multi-national companies, particularly from the pharmaceutical industry.
The secrecy surrounding Covid-19 vaccine procurement at the height of the pandemic continues to be a global issue, not just limited to SA – it is important to know what was agreed to in our name at the behest of powerful vaccine manufacturers who have been reported to have bullied governments in the Global South especially, insisting on contracts that ultimately made them huge profits, without maximum accountability and openness. Therefore, this judgment can be leveraged by other countries to demand open contracting in their jurisdictions.
We believe that in the current Pandemic Treaty negotiations, where worrying attempts are being made to water down transparency, that this judgment will support Pandemic Preparedness measures by bolstering provisions on transparency and accountability in these negotiations.
This case demonstrates that all governments should and can be held accountable when spending public funds, this also includes the parties it entered into contracts with. It is in the public interest to know what was agreed to. The judgment has affirmed that today.
We look forward to the Department of Health’s cooperation by making available all the records HJI requested within the time period set out in the judgment (10 court days from 17 August 2023).
For the judgement and court papers visit www.healthjusticeinitiative.org.za/pandemic-transparency
For media queries and interview requests contact Angie Richardson on 083 397 2512 (WhatsApp preferable) or [email protected]