Maverick Citizen


Millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses will have to be destroyed, Health Minister Joe Phaahla tells TAC congress

Millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses will have to be destroyed, Health Minister Joe Phaahla tells TAC congress
Health Minister Joe Phaahla recieves a gift from newly elected TAC chairperson Sibongile Tshabalala during the TAC’s 7th National Congress, held at the The Lakes, Benoni, Johannesburg, (Photo: Denvor de Wee)

The government is sitting with 10 million doses of Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines, but with only about 10,000 being administered weekly, the rest will have to be destroyed come October.

Health Minister Joe Phaahla says that because of the low uptake of Covid-19 vaccines, the government will have to throw away millions of Pfizer vaccine doses by October when they will have expired.

“We are sitting with 10 million doses of vaccines and on average, only 10,000 are being distributed weekly.”

Addressing the final day of the Treatment Action Campaign’s (TAC’s) seventh National Congress on Monday, Phaahla said the Covid-19 pandemic had been “stressful”, “isolating” and affected people’s mental health adversely, particularly with people often dying alone. He said the pandemic was not over, but was still “lurking”. 

covid vaccines tac leadership

Some of the newly elected TAC leadership, from left: chairperson Sibongile Tshabalala, general secretary Anele Yawa, deputy general secretary Patrick Mdletshe, men’s sector Simon Shongwe, LGBTQIA Philemon Tshware, PLHIV sector Fikile Ntsweni. (Photo: Denvor de Wee)

He conceded that while the government had made inroads with its vaccination campaign, it had not met its vaccination target, with adult vaccination currently at 52% as opposed to the targeted 70%.

HIV/Aids treatment affected

Phaahla said the pandemic had also had a dire impact on HIV/Aids treatment and adherence as a result of lockdown restrictions which saw people defaulting on treatment and regressing. The Department of Health was working with the South African National Aids Council community to redouble efforts to eradicate Aids.

The minister said that he saw Covid-19 as an equaliser when it came to health because heads of state and top businesspeople were equally affected, which he felt was the reason vaccines had been developed so quickly.

This was, however, rebutted by the director of the Rural Health Action Programme, Russell Rensburg, who said: “Covid wasn’t an equaliser. Covid was disproportionately borne by the poor. Many people weren’t even able to access the test and that’s really sad that you say it was an equaliser.

“If we’ve learnt anything in the last few years, it’s that enjoyment of equal rights is not equal.” 

Rensburg said that we have to take this opportunity to work harder towards the realisation of the rights enshrined in the Constitution.

The last day of the congress began with the reading out and endorsement debate of the resolutions tabled by the congress commission in Sunday’s closed session. These resolutions will shape the TAC agenda over the next five years until the organisation’s next congress.

Phaahla, who was in attendance for the last day of the congress, said that he saw the TAC’s invitation as a gesture of friendship and partnership as they were entrusted with the health and wellbeing of the country and committed to the healthier lives of South Africans. 

Xenophobic comments

He declined to comment about Limpopo Health MEC Phophi Ramathuba’s recent xenophobic comments. Instead, he said: “As a country, we must commit to the Constitution. We are guided by law, including international law, in terms of how everybody in South Africa should be treated… there is no room for discrimination when people seek help.

“We must take responsibility for the people of South Africa and those who are here in the country for various reasons. We also expect those in institutions and those committed to providing services to discharge that responsibility and coordinate resources in an orderly fashion.”

Responding to this, TAC national chairperson Sibongile Tshabalala said: “On the issue of medical xenophobia, which you said you don’t want to address, we cannot avoid it, and stand on principle [as TAC] that it is wrong for us as Africans to discriminate against each other. We are calling on government to speak out against this, it is wrong, Minister, to fight each other — remember these borders were created by apartheid. We cannot call Africans illegal in South Africa — there is no human being who is illegal.”

Tshabalala implored the minister to look into healthcare staff attitudes and long waiting times that often resulted in people dying. 

“Comrade Phaahla, we would like to urge you as a minister to deal with corruption in the Department of Health because it makes us suffer and affects us on the ground.”

Phaahla said he recognised that the role of the TAC as a civil society organisation was to advocate for the rights of people, ensure people know their rights and hold the government accountable for the realisation of those rights.

Among the TAC’s congress resolutions were commitments to:

  • Denounce medical xenophobia, particularly in light of Ramathuba’s outburst last week;
  • Ensure the availability and equitable distribution of ambulances in proper and adequate working condition, with a delegate mentioning that out of Gauteng’s 1,080 ambulances only 300 are in working order;
  • Support universal health coverage which underpins life, dignity and risk sharing, saying, however, that the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill in its current form does not meet these criteria. The TAC will consider legal action to ensure that people’s constitutional rights are not violated by the NHI;
  • Challenge austerity measures currently being imposed in the health system;
  • Advocate that antiretroviral treatment be increased to a 12-month prescription to boost adherence;
  • Ensure that people are treated with dignity when fetching medication;
  • Ensure that access to mental healthcare services is improved, with a delegate pointing out that “there should not only be social workers at clinics, because they are not qualified to deal with mental health issues, there should be psychologists and psychiatrists available”; and
  • Revive the Stop Stockouts campaign, which would release a report on Tuesday, 30 August, as it was morally unacceptable that many medicines are not available at clinics.

The room erupted into applause and song as the TAC’s new national leadership for the next five years was announced. The new leadership is:

  • Chairperson: Sibongile Tshabalala
  • Deputy chairperson: Anna Maluleke
  • General secretary: Anele Yawa
  • Deputy general secretary: Patrick Mdletshe
  • Women’s sector: Deferred to NWC
  • Men’s sector: Simon Shongwe
  • LGBTQIA sector: Philemon Tshware
  • PLHIV sector: Fikile Mtsweni
  • Youth sector: Ree Ndlovu DM/MC

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