Has Gov’t Abandoned Anti-COVID-19 Drugs Production Initiative?

By Nformi Sonde Kinsai

When the first case of COVID-19, a virus that is currently ravaging the world, was reported in Cameroon in March 2020, one of the emergency decisions taken by Government, in addition to barrier measures was the production of drugs, notably hydroxyl-chloroquine and zithromicine to combat the disease.

Hydroxyl-chloroquine, which is an anti-malaria drug and zithromicine, which is an anti-biotic, were said by some scientists to be effective in the treatment of COVID-19, if used in combination.

On the basis of such information, Government commissioned the Institute for Medical Research and Medicinal Plants Studies, abbreviated in French as IMPM, of the Ministry of Scientific Research and Innovation, MINRESI, to produce some 20 million tablets of hydroxyl-chloroquine and 8 million tablets of zithromicine, as a response measure to treat Cameroonians that may contract the disease.

With the disease metamorphosing into a more deadly strand, and with the advent of vaccines: has the initiative to produce anti-COVID-19 drugs been simply dumped by Government? It is against the backdrop of Government’s silence and the unanswered questions about the matter that The Post set out to probe into the issue.

IMPM becoming moribund

In an attempt to get the responses, concerned officials in MINRESI told this reporter that they have not been mandated by hierarchy to comment on the issue.

However, a source in the National Education Centre of MINRESI and one in the Ministry of Public Health, MINSANTE, who all requested that their identities be concealed, told The Post on April 27 in Yaounde that the initiative to produce the drugs has not been abandoned, per se.  

They disclosed that, out of the FCFA 4 billion that was earmarked for the production of the drugs, Government had disbursed FCFA 800 million. It was said, with the first installment, the IMPM was able to produce more than five million tablets of hydroxyl-chloroquine and over 2 million zithromicine.

“The drugs were collected by the Ministry of Public Health early this year, even though, without any formal ceremony,” they stated.

On how far the IMPM has gone with the production after delivering the first consignment, they said the FCFA 800 million was exhausted and the institute is waiting for the second disbursement to continue with the production. It was equally disclosed during the conversation that the ingredients for the production of the drugs were imported from India, because, Cameroon does not produce such pharmaceutical grades inputs as prescribed by the law on the production of medicines.

The duo explained that the only ingredient produced locally, which could have been used, is maize starch, but, unfortunately, it is not yet classified as a pharmaceutical grade input.

They talked about the controversy where a group of scientists are claiming that the hydroxyl-chloroquine and zithromicine combination therapy is no longer an effective cure for COVID-19. They expressed the fear that, given such a position, Government may divert the remaining funds to some other uses, especially with the advent of vaccines. They said, if it happens, then the steam the institute was already gaining in drug production would die out.

On whether the drugs surreptitiously taken away by the Ministry of Public Health are not being sold to Cameroonians when the President of the Republic, Paul Biya, had decreed free treatment for COVID-19 going by complaints raised by some patients, the MINSANTE official reiterated on the free treatment of the disease. He, however, explained that, in addition to COVID-19, some patients are diagnosed of other ailments and that, to the best of his knowledge, they are asked to pay for the treatment of such ailments and not for COVID-19.

The Post also gathered that the Institute for Medical Research and Medicinal Plants study is still waiting for the FCFA 500 million that was earmarked for it to begin production of drugs from medical plants to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

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