[DEBATE] : (Fwd) Virodene & a constant gardener in Tanzania
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Sun Sep 16 09:48:42 BST 2007
Virodene funding: TAC calls for probe into presidency
September 16, 2007 Edition 1
The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) has called for a judicial
investigation into the presidency following allegations that millions of
rands were channelled from the Union Buildings to the developers of the
controversial Virodene anti-Aids drug in 2000 and 2001.
Former insiders of the Virodene team, who have spoken on condition of
anonymity, said that, throughout the period in question, substantial
amounts of money were sourced "from the presidency" as well as from the
Johannesburg office of someone they describe as an ANC-linked
businessman, whose name is known to The Sunday Independent.
They say the money, in briefcases, was "always in US$100 bills".
Receipts were never issued. Amounts were often in the "six-figure
bracket". The green dollar bills would later be exchanged on the black
market "so that no traces were left" and always by a man the sources
will identify only as "a non-South African".
According to one source: "I would safely say we picked up around $5
million throughout 2000 …" At today's rate, that's the equivalent of
about R36 million.
It is not clear whether the cash was public or private money, but the
sources are adamant that the Pretoria government building was used as a
The government has flatly denied the allegations. However, in the view
of Nathan Geffen, the TAC's policy co-ordinator, "it suggests that
someone in the presidency has acted unethically or even illegally by
being involved in the promotion, distribution or testing of Virodene".
This constitutes "the exploitation of the suffering of people with
Aids", he adds, and "the TAC calls for a judicial investigation into the
activities of the presidency around Virodene".
Under the South African Medicines and Related Substances Act, it is
prohibited to promote a non-registered drug. It is also prohibited to
carry out testing on humans without the authorisation of the Medicines
Yet, according to one of the sources, whose claims are substantiated by
hundreds of letters, e-mails and faxes, the millions of rands that made
their way to the developers of the drug, Olga and Zigi Visser, were used
for that very reason.
"It was around the time of the Tanzania trials and the money went into
researching, promoting and developing the drug there and here," they say.
The so-called phase 2 of the project began in Tanzania in September 2000
when the Tanzanian People's Defence Force began testing locals on behalf
of the Virodene team.The trials were carried out at two locations on the
outskirts of Dar es Salaam: the Lugalo military hospital and the
Chadibwa health centre.
It came just three years after South Africa's Medicines Control Council
had discredited Virodene - whose main compound is the industrial solvent
dimethylformamide - as a drug that was not only potentially dangerous,
but with no proven impact on the killer virus. The trials were not
allowed to continue in this country.
Yet, in the early months of 2001, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang carried out
an inspection of the Tanzanian trials in her capacity as health minister
- a claim she has earlier acknowledged and which was confirmed by staff
at the military hospital in recent weeks.
Details of that visit were outlined in a fax sent to the health
minister's Cape Town office by Olga Visser on February 27 2001. In
respect of "your queries with regard to the forthcoming trip to Tanzania
… we confirm that the main purpose of the visit will be to inspect the
sites where the phase 2 Virodene trials are taking place", Visser wrote.
She added that the office should ensure "the visit carries both the
blessing and approval of the president of the Republic of South Africa
and the president of the Republic of Tanzania".
While the presidency has confirmed that authorisation was, indeed,
granted for an official visit to Tanzania in 2001, irrespective of the
Virodene project, it is not clear whether the required presidential
"approval" was issued for the inspection to be carried out.
"It is unethical and highly inappropriate for our health minister to be
involved in such activities," argues Geffen. "Why was she getting
involved in such a thing?"
When the same question was tabled in an internal question paper in
parliament last year, the minister replied: "To evaluate the usefulness
The Tanzanian trials were brought to a temporary halt in March 2001 by
Andrew Kitua, the director general of Tanzania's National Institute for
Medical Research. He says he closed down the operation because "it was
not being carried out according to the correct scientific and ethical
guidelines". It is understood the trials recommenced later that year.
In the Virodene story carried in Independent Newspapers' Saturday
editions, Mukoni Ratshitanga, the spokesman for the presidency, was
quoted as saying: "There was some kind of contact back then between the
president and the researcher of Virodene." Ratshitanga insists he said
the presidency, and not the president.
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