The World Health Organization (WHO) has put the government of Ghana in a tight corner with suggestion that, it could be putting the lives of its citizens at risk with the purchase of the substandard COVID-19 vaccines from third parties and middlemen, rather than certified manufacturers.
The government has been hit by controversy over the use of middlemen, said to have sold 3.4 million doses of Russian-made Sputnik V vaccines at US$19, when the known factory price is pegged at US$10.
By the agreement with Sheikh Dalmook Al Maktoum, who delivered 15,000 doses while in Accra with assurances to supply the 300,000 Ghana ordered at a cost of US$5.7 million.
Reports revealed that the procurement, did not go through the approval processes of the Public Procurement Authority (PPA).
The Assistant Director-General for Access to Medicines and Health Products at the WHO, Mariangela Batista Galvao Simao, said the organization has advised countries to contact and deal directly with the manufacturers to make sure that the intermediary is legal because there are fake COVID-19 vaccines in circulation.
"There's also the substandard and falsified COVID products being commercialized out there. So you need to know the providence; where is there precedence, where is this product coming from, who is selling, whether it's registered, has it been listed by the WHO?
She went on to add that "there are several things that need to be taken into account into this. During the last World Health Assembly which ended last week, we did have long discussion on substandard and falsified medicines and vaccines in circulating in the market, and the internet sales are the ways these procures reach out to either individuals or governments. So our advice is check with the manufacturer, check the legality transaction and then you make an informed decision. Please make sure that you are busying vaccines that are certified by the WHO".
On pricing, she disclosed that her organization, has received news of overpriced vaccines in some countries. She has asked countries to deal with the manufacturers of the vaccines in order to purchase them at the right price.
"We have received concerns from countries regarding other vaccines selling at a much higher price than what is being actually sold by the manufacturers. Two things to be aware of; First of all, the vast majority of manufacturers are selling only to public entities.
"We have advised countries to go to the manufacturer to make sure that the intermediaries are legal."
Popular Norwegian news website, Vergens Gang in an investigative report, cited Ghana for purchasing the Russia-made vaccines from the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) through some businessmen at $19, instead of US$10.
The Ministry of Health in a press release had admitted dealing with middlemen, saying the US$10 price per dose is the ex-factory price, but the government was unable to buy directly from the Russian government, hence, the use of the private office of one Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Dubai.
Ghana government through Health Minister, Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, had reportedly entered the agreement for the supply of 3.4 million doses at a unit cost of US$19.
Chief Director of the Ministry, Kwabena Boadu Oku-Afari, said "It should be noted that the US$10 price per dose, which is being proposed as the correct price, is the ex-factory price, which is only obtained from Government to Government arrangements", adding that "The Government of Ghana was unable to obtain direct supplies from the Russian Government as stated earlier, hence the resort to the market."
The statement further explained that the initial price was $25, but had to negotiate downwards to US$19 through efforts of the government. It added that several factors, including land transportation, shipment, handling and special storage charges among others contributed to the procurement of the vaccines at US$19.
"This is the result of the cost build-up to the ex-factory price of US$10 per dose, taking into account land transportation, shipment, insurance, handling and special storage charges, as explained by the seller. These are the factors which led us to agree on the final price of US$19 per dose," the Ministry stressed.
The vaccines are yet to be supplied, the Ministry's statement noted.
The popular Norwegian website, had revealed that Ghanaian government officials, had signed an agreement to purchase Sputnik vaccines manufactured and produced in Russia for 19 dollars per dose, instead of 10 dollars.
In a detailed report by the website, www.vg.no, the Kweku Manu, is reported to have signed the contract with an Emirati official who was involved in the sale of Gas Turbines to Ghana in the controversial Ameri deal and another wanted Norwegian citizen.
"The sample proves that the Sheikh has access to the coronavirus vaccine. A product sought after by every country in the world. Now, it is time for negotiations. Six days later, the Ministry of Health in Ghana signs an agreement with the Sheikh. They announce that they have reached an agreement regarding the purchase of 3.4 million vaccine doses."
According to the website, the deal between the Government of Ghana and the two officials, was arranged by another intermediary, who had been charged with money laundering in Norway.
When confronted by details of the price of the Sputnik vaccine, Finance Minister, Ken Ofori Attah, is reported to have answered that the government had a choice to make to protect the people of Ghana, hence the decision to pay the $19 for the Sputnik vaccine.
"VG– The agreement with the Sheikh, do you view it as a sensible agreement? To pay 19 dollars, per dose? "Ofori Attah – 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's enough [vaccines] to go around if only there was equity and justice in what we are doing."
Agyemang Manu on April 28, stated that Ghana was expected to take delivery of some 300,000 Russian-made Sputnik V vaccines to get the country's vaccination programme back on track.
"We're making efforts to get into the country some Russia type Sputnik, though we have made initial approaches and expecting some Sputnik to come in. They demonstrated availability and brought in the first 160,000 which is kept there and waiting for about 300,000 to come. However, it is not known if the Sputnik vaccines ever arrived in Ghana as promised by the Health Minister.
It is also not known, if the vaccines are the same alleged to have been purchased for $19, instead of $10 per dose.
"The Government of Ghana was unable to obtain direct supplies from the Russian Government as stated earlier, hence the resort to the market." It explained that the initial price of $25 had to be negotiated downwards to $19 through efforts of the government.
"This is the result of the cost build-up to the ex-factory price of US$10 per dose, taking into account land transportation, shipment, insurance, handling and special storage charges, as explained by the seller. "These are the factors which led us to agree on the final price of US$19 per dose," the Ministry stressed.
The Ministry explained that, when the engagements with the Russian authorities such as the Russian Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the CEOs of the RDIF and Limited Liability Company 'Human Vaccine' and even the Deputy Ambassador of Russia in Ghana yielded no results, the offer from Sheikh Dalmook Al Maktoum, was responded to on Tuesday, March 9, a few days to exactly a year when the coronavirus disease struck the country.
"It should be noted that at the time of negotiations, as is the case now, there was scarcity or non-availability of the vaccines on the market."
So far, the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) has approved the use of three vaccines in Ghana–AstraZeneca, Sputnik V and quite recently Johnson & Johnson.
By the agreement with Sheikh Dalmook Al Maktoum, who delivered 15,000 doses while in Accra as assurances to supply the 300,000 Ghana ordered at a cost of $5.7 million, the country can opt-out if supply conditions are not met.
So far, the supply is yet to be delivered, according to the Ministry's statement. Ghana began vaccinating its population against COVID-19 in March with a goal to vaccinate about 20 million of the population by close of this year.
Interestingly, the same Sheikh Dalmook Al Maktoum, who was behind the famous Ameri Power deal of 2015, has shown up in an investigative piece about how the government of Ghana allegedly procured Sputnik V vaccines at a rate almost twice their market value.
A corruption report by Norwegian news portal, VG, cites one Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum of Dubai as the person whose outfit sold Ghana the 'overpriced' Russia-made vaccine, he happens to be involved in the Ameri gas turbines deal of six years ago with the present ruling party calling him a criminal.
An excerpt of the publication mentions that "when the Sheik sold overpriced gas turbines to Ghana via the company Ameri Group in 2015, Farooq Zahoor and the Sheik both signed the agreement.
"At the same time, Farooq Zahoor is wanted in Norway for what the police believe is his role in the spectacular Nordea fraud in 2010, where the conspirators emptied the account of a super-rich".
The power deal was signed in 2015 between the then John Dramani Mahama government and Africa Middle East Resources Investment Group LLC (AMERI) as one of the numerous deals sealed to solve the power crisis. The deal pitched the two political parties against each other with then candidate Akufo-Addo claiming that it was inflated by $150million. After winning power in 2017, the government commenced steps to renegotiate the deal.
The new deal which was drafted by the government courted backlash from civil society organizations and the opposition National Democratic Congress.
Discussions around the renegotiated deal cost the job of then Energy Minister, Boakye Agyarko after President Akufo-Addo, was misled on portions of the renegotiated deal according to the Statesman - a newspaper owned by his cousin Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko.