GUYANA | Health Minister defends Sputnik acquisition from UAE Sheikh

GUYANA | Health Minister defends Sputnik acquisition from UAE Sheikh

GEORGETOWN,  Guyana, June 18, 2021 - Despite reports by Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang (VG), linking the government of Guyana to an illegal  COVID-19 vaccine racket involving  intermediaries from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) obtaining the Sputnik vaccine and re-selling it at a premium, the country’s Health Ministry has denied any illegality.

Opposition Leader Joseph Harmon at a press conference on Thursday, called on President Irfaan Ali to come clean on the Government’s alleged involvement in any illegal vaccine racket.

He pointed out that of the exorbitant cost of the vaccine was a major red flag, particularly when the National Assembly was advised by the Health Minister Dr. Frank Anthony, that Guyana had spent an average of US$23 for a dose of the Sputnik vaccine, while the recommended price was around US$10 per dose.

In addition, he said the expenditure of $1,232,964 for the purchase of Spuntik V vaccines drew immediate attention.

"It was discovered that the installed PPP regime purchased 200,000 doses of the Spuntik V vaccines for the sum of $975,000.00 and that it intended to purchase another 58,000 doses for $275,964,000. These purchases made from one sheik Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum of the United Arab Emirates. These prices were some $600 million above the who stated prices,Harmon said.

In addition, the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine which was recently given the all-clear by the World Health Organisation was purchased at a much lower cost, (US17) but Guyana bought less of that vaccine.

The report by the Norwegian newspaper referenced last November when Sheik Al Maktoum, accompanied by Umar Farooq Zahoor, visited Guyana on a private jet as a guest of the state and hosted by President Irfaan Ali.

The Opposition Leader said his call for suspension from use of that particurlar batch of vaccine, was against the background that there was a possibility that it could be fake, given what has been happening in other jurisdictions involving fraudulent Sputnik V vaccines. However, he said if he could be convinced that the vaccines were genuine, he had no difficulty in withdrawing his call.

However, the Health Ministry maintained  in a statement,  that “at no time did Guyana procure vaccines from any illegal entity or anyone in trouble with legal authorities anywhere. At no time did Guyana access vaccines secretly from anyone.” 

“In every instance, the Ministry of Health has followed the established process and has established legally binding contracts to ensure the timely delivery of these vaccines,” the Health Ministry said.

The Health Ministry said in an attempt to ensure sufficient supplies it held bilateral discussions with countries, and a number of manufacturers. The Government also held discussions with several multilateral organizations, including the Organization of the Islamic States, the African Union/Caricom initiative and COVAX.

“However, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson were not in a position to supply vaccines to Guyana in 2021, and “Guyana was not willing to wait on Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson,'' the ministry said. It is against this background that Guyana approached countries like China, Russia, and India to seek direct procurement.” 

“It was during these discussions that an opportunity to procure 400,000 doses of Sputnik through the UAE presented itself. Guyana took the opportunity to procure Sputnik vaccines under this arrangement while keeping our options open for procurement from other sources,”the government explained.

“When we had the discussion with the Russian Direct Investment, they said to us that they have suppliers that they would normally work with and one the suppliers we understood to be the Sheikh and, therefore, since he had authentic access to vaccines produced by Gamaleya, when we engaged them, they said they can supply Guyana with vaccines and therefore we negotiated and we have vaccines through this particular supplier,” Health Minister Dr. Anthony explained.

The Health  Minister said Guyana’s Food and Drugs Department granted reciprocal Emergency Use Authorisation of the Sputnik V vaccine based on approval by Russia itself, Brazil and other nations as well as reports in the globally recognised British medical journal, Lancet.

According to Dr. Anthony Sheikh Maktoum has a good track record in dealing in pharmaceutical products.  Guyana procured 400,000 doses of Sputnik V vaccines from Dubai, however, only 305,000 doses have been received. The additional 95,000 doses of Sputnik vaccines from this procurement will arrive in Guyana soon.

The Health Ministry said it is no secret that Guyana paid $US22 per dose of the Sputnik V vaccine and $US17 per dose of Sinopharm. It said these prices include all associated cost, including ground and air transport.

According to the Health Ministry, Guyana sought to procure directly from the Russian Sovereign Fund, but with no firm commitments on a delivery schedule, Guyana opted to utilize a supplier. “It was a good investment for our people at the time. It remains a good investment at this time. The Ministry of Health has no apologies in this regard,” the Ministry maintained.

In response to the chain of custody in relation  to the movement of the vaccine from the manufacturers to Guyana, the Health Minister said by way of chartered jet, the  Sputnik vaccines left the manufacturer,  Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, in Russia, for onward transmission to Guyana  by way of the UAE transiting through  Miami, Florida before arriving in Guyana. 

According to the Norwegian newspaper, Zahoor, a Pakistani national who grew up in Norway, is wanted as part of an investigation into a massive fraud. However, he is reportedly being protected by the United Arab Emirates and his close associate Sheik Al Maktoum.

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