EXCLUSIVE: 'Illegally' imported chloroquine probed

eNCA has uncovered what appears to be a more than 5-ton illegal import of the malaria drug, chloroquine. The medication is touted as a treatment for COVID-19. Courtesy #DStv403

JOHANNESBURG - eNCA has uncovered what appears to be a more than 5-ton illegal import of the malaria drug, chloroquine.

The medication is touted as a treatment for COVID-19.

But its effectiveness has not been proven - nor has it been registered to treat the disease in South Africa.

What's even more concerning is that the final destination of the medication is unknown.

Chloroquine has been used globally for more than 50 years to treat malaria. 

Researchers - including some in South Africa - are investigating its effectiveness in treating COVID-19

It’s now alleged that about 10-million doses of the drug have been smuggled into the country. 

READ: Malaria drugs being studied for COVID-19 treatment

eNCA has seen documentation which reveals two consignments -of 2,6 tons each - arrived in Johannesburg last month. 

The haul is estimated to be worth about R40-million rand and is enough to treat about 400,000 patients.

Balmoral Norse - a company registered as operating in the aviation industry - is listed as the importer. 

When eNCA contacted its sole director, Dave Avnit, he was surprised. 

READ: COVID-19: Survivors donate blood for testing

He committed to investigating the matter further. 

But he has since been unreachable. 

The SA Health Products Regulatory Authority has no record of the company. 

“Internally, we did our investigation, we could not see the company on our list of companies that are licensed by SAHPRA. Let's involve SAPS to further look into the matter," said Mlungisi Wondo, from the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority.

According to records, the exporter is Indian Pharma Enterprises. 

The company has a very limited online presence, but business listing sites reveal the company employs only 15 people. 

The regulator is also in the dark.

READ: SA participates in COVID-19 treatment trial

“If this chloroquine was going to be imported from that specific company in India, it would have been working with a licensed local company. That means that the company would have applied to SAHPRA to have that specific site inspection,” said Wondo.

The whereabouts of the medication is not known to the authorities. 

The Health Department’s Popo Maja confirmed the government had not ordered the consignments. 

He's added that the drug has not yet been approved for the treatment of COVID-19. 

With all the additional requirements imposed by the lockdown regulations - it could not have been easy.

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