The South African Society of Travel Medicine (SASTM) has raised concerns that vaccines meant for diplomats and SA soldiers doing peacekeeping duties in meningitis risk areas (according to the original tender) are being sold to the public.

SASTM has raised concerns that vaccines meant for diplomats and SA soldiers doing peacekeeping duties in meningitis risk areas are being sold to the public

Speaking to Medical Chronicle SASTM President Lee Baker explained that it was brought to the Society’s attention that a Government travel clinic opened in the centre of Johannesburg and that they were charging much less for certain vaccines than the private clinics in December 2016. “This put private sector in a very bad light as it looked as if they were ripping the public off.”

SASTM investigated the situation and discovered that the government clinic was procuring vaccines from the Provincial Department of Health (DoH). “These vaccines were supplied to the DoH on a tender system at tender prices, which are much lower than those available to private sector,” said Baker.

“The original tender for these vaccines (especially yellow fever and meningitis) was meant for South African Military Health Services (SAMHS), for soldiers doing peacekeeping duties in meningitis risk areas and for diplomats. They are now being provided to the general public.”

SASTM arranged a meeting with the Gauteng DoH and it was explained that this is within legal parameters. And the clinic is merely following orders from above and addressing the needs of travellers.

“SASTM has no issue with these clinics providing a service if the clinic sister has a yellow fever licence and is following good clinic practice and believes in travel medicine services being accessible and affordable to all, but there is an issue with the unfair pricing. Private sector clinics have to acquire vaccines and medicines through the Single Exit Price (SEP) system, which has been set by the Pricing Committee of the DoH.

“These prices are much higher than those on the government tender,” said Baker. “For example, the price a traveller pays at the government clinic for the yellow fever vaccine is R252 and the meningitis vaccine is R278. There is no mark-up. The facility is run by the DoH and therefore its costs are covered by the Department (from our taxes). The SEP available to private travel clinics is R324 (vat inclusive) for yellow fever vaccine and R643 (vat inclusive) for the meningitis vaccine. This is what the clinic pays before any mark-up, which is fixed at 16%. All private clinic costs are borne by the clinic itself.

“The government clinic is not selling to the indigent or the poor but to the travelling public. Both the government clinic and private clinics are serving the same market and this amounts to unfair competition,” said Baker. “It may be perceived that the DoH is subsidising those who can clearly afford the vaccines in the private sector when more urgent matters need funding in the public sector.

“Additional government clinics have now opened in some areas and more are planned. At the moment at least one private practitioner has closed his clinic due to this unfair competition,” concluded Baker.