Ghosts of Covid millionaires in Russian vaccine import

On Sunday March 21, 2021—exactly a year and a week after the first Covid-19 case was reported in Nairobi—a consignment of 75,000 doses of Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine arrived at Mombasa port.  

The importer, Dinlas Pharma EPZ Ltd, is a firm based in Syokimau on Mombasa Road.

The following day, the firm made a tax payment of Sh8.5 million to the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) at 4.34pm.

KRA issued a tax receipt with customer reference number 121-00448. Dinlas Pharma paid Sh3.1 million as Railway Development Levy and Sh5.4 million as Import Declaration Fee. There was also a concession fee of Sh250.

Import Declaration Fee is charged by KRA on all imported goods. It is charged at a rate of 2.25 percent of the Insurance and Freight (CIF) value.

Dinlas did not pay Value Added Tax (VAT), import duty and excise duty due to the nature of the consignment.

After clearing with the KRA, the firm was instructed to get an import release note from the ports. The note was processed and signed by an officer identified as Celestine on March 22.

In the clearance note, the ICCD number 00300955 indicated that the consignment was in good condition.

Days after its clearance, the vaccine, the first one to be imported by a private company, hits the Kenyan market and finds its way into private hospitals.

Two prominent lawyers and Deputy President William Ruto, who has broken ranks with his own government, take the vaccine and release pictures that instantly go viral.

The Ministry of Health, however, disowns the vaccine for more than a week; in the making of Covid-19 millionaires season two.

As Kenyans were coming to terms with reports of how officials at the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) dished out tenders at the agency, tenderpreneurs and connected State officials went back to the drawing board and plotted to make the next billion from the pandemic.

This time, through private imports and sale of the vaccines. The high risks involved due to emergence of counterfeits did not stop them. They did not even wait for World Health Organisation (WHO) approvals of Sputnik V before making the first orders.

The biggest puzzle is how the Russian vaccine was shipped into the country and found its way into hospitals at a supersonic speed, only for the ministry to disown it repeatedly.

Dinlas Pharma EPZ was registered on January 26, 2018 and is among the suppliers mentioned with regard to the 2020 Kemsa Covid-19 consignments.

The matter is being investigated by both houses of Parliament, with the Senate recommending prosecutions.

An investigation by Nation revealed that Dinlas Pharma EPZ Ltd is owned by Medillon Trading FZE and Parkdale Investments Ltd, which have 341,700 and 168, 300 shares respectively.

Medillon Trading FZE and Parkdale Investments Ltd are registered in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates.

Nation could not immediately establish the owners of these companies. 

But listed as a secretary of Dinlas Pharma EPZ is Ms Lenah Chelangat while Mr Jayesh Umesh Saini is listed as a director, but with no shares.

Mr Jayesh is the founder and chairman of Bliss. At one time, he was mentioned adversely in the Clinix Healthcare scandal, where Sh96 million was said to have been lost through a dubious medical scheme for civil servants and the disciplined forces.

This is the firm behind one of the three batches already imported.

The Pharmacy and Poisons Board says Sputnik V vaccine is in the country legally and that only one hospital has been accredited to administer it.

“Only one...passed the test. Bliss Westlands has been given clearance to administer the vaccine to any Kenyan. We are going to accredit more but only those who pass the test,” said a member of the board, who requested anonymity citing pressure from Health Ministry officials.

It states that for Sputnik V 1, which is given as a first dose, a hospital must show that it can store the vaccine at -18 degrees Celsius while for the second dose, Sputnik V 2, can be stored at between 2 to 8 degrees Celsius.

“The vaccine is not illegal. We approved the vaccine and it is safe. Our people are on the ground doing surveillance for hospitals. Those that meet the threshold will be accredited,” the board says.

To provide such a vaccine, a distributor is required to train workers administering it and take private indemnity cover to deal with any eventualities.

All this happened after the PPB approved the emergency use of the vaccine, authorising Dinlas to import it.

Getting the two certified indicated the goods were in the country legally.

The board cleared the company to import the vaccine, which could not have happened without the knowledge of the Ministry of Health.

Distribution clearance

 On March 24, via its Twitter handle, PPB said it had given Emergency Use Authorisation to Sputnik V vaccine after a successful evaluation and after it met all the requirements.

 The poisons board also said any company planning to import Covid-19 vaccines had to sign an indemnity agreement before being cleared.

 Dinlas Pharma, on March 12, applied for a Sh201 million professional indemnity through AAR Insurance Company Ltd for a year, starting on March 12, 2021 to March 11, 2022.

 The indemnity was to cover for reactions due to Covid-19 vaccination.

 “It is hereby agreed that the benefits of the policy issued are available at Dinlas Pharma EPZ Ltd subject to the terms, conditions and exceptions of the professional indemnity policy issued,” as indicated in the certificate signed by one Robert Ngetich.

 From the certificate, it states that the maximum limit per event is Sh1 million and one year aggregate Sh200 million.

 The board added that in reviewing Sputnik V, it considered aspects of quality, safety and efficacy and found that it is safe. The Ministry of Health only belatedly approved the vaccine on Wednesday.

 Two Ministry of Health officials on Thursday last week denied knowledge that the vaccine was authorised for use in Kenya and claimed they were not aware of its arrival, raising safety concerns.

 Dr Collins Tabu, the head of immunisation at the Ministry, said he was not aware of the Sputnik V vaccine’s existence in Kenya, even as the PPB said it had approved its importation but not distribution.

 Dr Willis Akhwale, the vaccine advisory task force chairman, said he was not privy to discussions with anyone at the ministry on the arrival of the Sputnik V.

On Wednesday, however, Dr Akhwale changed tune and said the Russian-made drug was fit for use.

“This vaccine, Sputnik V, has received emergency use authorisation but not market authorisation,” said Dr Akhwale at a press briefing, explaining that lack of market authorisation means Sputnik V vaccine cannot be advertised commercially.

Private hospitals are already registering Kenyans for the vaccine.

Mr Nishant Mishra, a senior official at Dinlas Pharmaceuticals, the distributor, said the vaccine has been imported with the full knowledge and clearance of the PPB.

“We used Freight in Time Ltd as our clearing agent and got the clearance. We are using the Freight in Time’s cold room to (store it) at the required temperature. We have a tracker to monitor the temperature around the clock,” Mr Mishra said.

Distribution clearance

When the Nation asked the board why the vaccine has not been distributed to private hospitals, one official who sought anonymity said distribution clearance is the mandate of the Ministry of Health.

“Ours is to deal with the safety and ensuring that meet the requirements after which we will give distribution clearance since they deal with distribution of health products and pricing, not the board,” PPB said.

Before the distribution of the vaccine, the company was to ensure users’ safety, which private distributors must meet before getting approval.

The distributor also needs to register users on the government-run Chanjo site, where everyone getting vaccinated against coronavirus has details filed, to enable the ministry to track the number of people given the shots and any side effects.

 The distributor also has to sign a technical agreement stipulating the responsibilities of the parties involved in its administration and training health care workers on the administration of the vaccine.

 Dinlas Pharma is understood to be training health care workers from 27 private hospitals.

The vaccine will be administered by private hospitals at Sh8,000 per dose.

 “We have met the requirements and conditions. Whoever can afford to pay for the vaccine should be allowed to,” Mr Mishra said.

 “The vaccine will be distributed through the hospitals’ networks. Freight in Time Ltd will help us do the distribution because it has the facilities to transport the vaccine at required temperatures.”

He added that Dinlas Pharma would ensure the hospitals that receive the Sputnik V vaccine have the cold storage facilities.

pwafula@ke.nationmedia.com, aoketch@ke.nationmedia.com

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