The recent explanation provided by the Ministry of Public Health in an effort to dispel rumours of insider trading in the sole sourcing of 14 ventilators from Caribbean Medical has only evoked more questions.
According to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Colette Adams, there was no insider knowledge of the matter while noting that planning for the Coronavirus started since December last.
This remark has left many observers wondering how the Ministry was planning for the virus in December 2019 when it was only confirmed as the Coronavirus by the World Health Organization (WHO) on January 7 this year. On that date as well, the novel virus was named 2019-nCoV and was identified as belonging to the coronavirus family, which includes SARS and the common cold. WHO officials had said that Coronaviruses are common and spread through being in proximity to an infected person and inhaling droplets generated when they cough or sneeze, or touching a surface where these droplets land and then touching one’s face or nose.
What has also left observers in bewilderment is the fact that WHO on January 23 had said that the outbreak did not yet constitute a public emergency of international concern and there was “no evidence” at that time of the virus spreading between humans outside of China. Furthermore, the first death outside China, was on February 2. WHO reported that it was a Chinese man from Wuhan and was an imported case for the Philippines. Eight days later, the WHO said that the virus would be named COVID-19 and on March 11, it was declared a global pandemic.
In addition to planning that was done in December, Adams said that the Ministry had taken stock of what was needed which included facemasks, gowns and ventilators. Adams said that the shortage of ventilators was recognised early on to be one of the biggest areas of concern. The official said that since February, requests were made to suppliers but only Caribbean Medical Supplies Inc. signaled its interest.
It should be noted that the names of the other companies along with the dates of when they were contacted for the supply of the ventilators were not provided by Adams but a commitment was nonetheless given to do just this.
On Monday, Trinidadian firm Trans-Continental Medical Products Limited had filed a complaint to the Public Procurement Commission asking for a probe into the purchase of the 14 portable ventilators.
The company in its complaint said, “As a supplier, capable of providing a range of ventilators, portable and otherwise, who have been working with the Ministry for many years, we were not made aware that the Ministry had sent out notices asking for the supply of ventilators. We must now question if these 14 ventilators were procured following proper procurement procedures.”
It added, “…specifically, we are asking for details of advertisements, and other public documents/notices which would help establish the validity of this transaction.”
A principal of Caribbean Medical, Davendra Rampersaud, is before the courts, after a quantity of expired HIV test kits ended up on the local market. Those kits were sold to the Ministry in January.
The World Health Organization has asked local authorities to ensure that the kits are pulled out of use.
An investigation has also been launched in Kenya where the kits were supplied from.
It is believed that the kits were part of a batch donated to Kenya by the US, using donor funding.
The Ministry has said it is continuing to investigate the matter. So did the Government Analyst Food and Drug Department (GA-FDD).
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