We bought ‘exorbitant’ Sputnik vaccines out of desperation – Health Minister

Controversies surrounding the purchase of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine at $19 per dose from an Arab businessman instead of $10 from manufacturers have dominated the news in the past few days.

This has drawn widespread criticism, with health officials justifying their inability to purchase the vaccines from the source.

Taking his turn to address the media on Wednesday, June 16, Minister of Health Kwaku Agyeman Manu explained that their first effort was a bilateral engagement with Russia, which “yielded no significant results”.

“We had to write to the Foreign Minister of Russia, we wrote to the Health Minister of Russia, we wrote to the Trade Minister of Russia trying to see how they can facilitate so we could buy the vaccine from the manufacturers. But all these didn’t yield any responses or any significant results, to the extent that we even invited the Russian ambassador for an engagement but he couldn’t facilitate the trade”.

Ghana was one of three countries that availed itself for Sputnik V vaccine trials, so the failure to procure the vaccine at a relatively cheaper cost has raised eyebrows.

According to Mr Agyeman Manu, the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) had approved only two vaccines, the AstraZeneca and Sputnik V.

AstraZeneca is produced in India, but the country suffered a high rate of COVID-19 infections and deaths, affecting export.

The minister indicated that they decided to purchase Russian’s Sputnik V after India announced the closure of borders because of a third wave of the virus.

“We, therefore, had no option than to engage middlemen to see how they can help secure the vaccine,” he justified.

You may also read: Why Ghana bought Sputnik V For $19 instead of $10

Mr Agyeman Manu said the government had two contracts for consideration.

“In the process, we signed two agreements, one that was going to sell vaccines to us at $19 and the other at $18.5. These agreements were with the view that it will only become operational after we have placed orders and have issued letters of credit,” he noted.

But the government missed out on the $18.5 because it delayed in issuing a letter of credit.

“…when we delayed, they sold their stock, but the government is committed that no matter what we will find vaccines for the people”.

“The $19, we had a deliberate schedule that would span between 3months to July. The first tranche was 300,000 that was issued on LC4, but the supplier could not deliver. They said they had run out of stock, and he could only deliver in July,” he added.

Additionally, Ghana placed orders with the Africa Medicines Platform.

The minister was optimistic that “the first batch of vaccines from that window would arrive in Ghana in August”.

Red flags by Norwegian news outlet

The ministry’s response follows the publication by a Norwegian newspaper, Verdens Gang, on June 3.

The publication alleged that Ghana reached an agreement on 3.4 million vaccine doses after health officials had been shown boxes containing 16,000 doses.

They raised concerns about the involvement of the middlemen who are making huge profits from the deal.

“It is 3 March and the moment of truth for Minister of Health, Kwaku Agyeman-Manu. A flight from the Emirates is taxiing to the terminal in Accra, the capital of Ghana, where the Minister of Health is waiting. Out step two men: One is a Sheikh and second cousin of the ruler of Dubai. The other has been on the run from Norwegian police for years.

Six days later, the Ministry of Health in Ghana signs an agreement with the Sheik. They announce that they have reached an agreement regarding the purchase of 3.4 million vaccine doses. No price is publicly disclosed,” the report said.

However, Minister of Finance Ken Ofori-Atta, said they took action to save the lives of Ghanaians due to the difficulty in getting the vaccines from the manufacturer.

“I don’t know. You know, you are confronted with “the good guys” from the West not giving you any assurances of supply [of vaccines], and you have 30 million people and are to save lives. You know, it’s easy to sit somewhere else and say: Why are you doing this? But you need to make sure you protect your people. You manage that as well as you can. This is all a contrived and manufactured crisis because clearly there are enough [vaccines] to go around if only there was equity and justice in what we are doing.”

Justification by Parliament’s Health Committee

Meanwhile, the Chairman of Parliament’s Health Committee, Dr Nana Ayew Afriyie, maintained that the persons involved in the deal had not fleeced Ghana.

“We have not been swindled as a State. Even though we are in a desperate state to get vaccines, the government’s policy, which is a very good one, is to get business persons to go into the Sputnik V space.

“Yes, the factory price is US$ 10, but when you get expatriates, and it gets out of the factory, there are a lot of factors that come in, including the profit, commission and freight to Ghana. So you don’t expect a vaccine that costs US$ 10 at the factory to be the same price when it arrives in Ghana, especially when a middleman is getting it,” he told Joy FM.

Minority response

Meanwhile, ranking member on Parliament’s Health Committee, Kwabena Mintah Akandoh, has found the government’s explanations untenable.

For him, “the right thing must be done so that we don’t create any desperate situation to attempt to milk the system”.

He has questioned why the government cannot deal with the manufacturer directly or join the AU or even use the COVAX facility under which Ghana acquired the vaccines that have been administered so far.

Ghana received 600,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca formula in February 2021 to commence the vaccination programmes with the targets of reaching 20million residents.

In May, 350,000 doses of the same Oxford/AstraZeneca was received by Ghana for the second jabs to be administered to ensure maximum protection against contracting the infection.

About 900,000 people have received the vaccines as the government makes efforts to expand the vaccination programme.

1 Comment
  1. Citizen Kofi Amoah says

    It is most unfortunate why the Ghana govt refuses to deal with the important matter of the vaccines source, considering that the WHO has warned nations not to buy vaccines from middle men but directly from authentic manufacturers or govts to avoid the danger of getting “fake and unhealthy” vaccines
    And there is even the allegation of one of the agents being wanted by the Norwegian police, creating concerns of trust
    The Ghana govt has a clear duty to assure citizens of the authenticity of the vaccines contracted for if they couldn’t get some directly from the Sputnik V manufacturers or directly through the Russian govt
    This should not he difficult to do to assuage the legitimate and cautious concerns of the public

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