Kiev, Ukraine – After a revolution seven years ago, Ukrainians discovered that their overthrown president had used public money to build a huge palace with a private zoo, golf course and garage full of vintage cars.
To prevent such corruption in the future, a number of reforms have been implemented, including a requirement that almost all government contracts be made public so that no secret setbacks end up in the pockets of high-ranking officials.
The overhaul, widely viewed as a rare success in the country’s otherwise stalling anti-corruption offensive, spanned tens of millions of dollars in medical procurement annually.
However, in order to secure vaccine supplies, Ukraine has been forced to largely abandon the rule – a move the government says is less of its choice than demand from the pharmaceutical companies that control the supply.
In negotiating with national governments, pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson insisted that many of the terms of the contract are trade secrets and must be kept confidential.
Health organizations have sharply criticized these agreements, stating that governments far better positioned than Ukraine to spend huge sums on cans were too willing to accept such secrecy.
The requirement has hampered the Ukrainian government and forced a state-owned procurement company set up to prevent transplants from being overridden in the medical system as it was required by law to disclose the terms of all contracts.
“This is due to extremely strict data protection regulations and confidentiality guidelines, which the procurement company cannot comply with under Ukrainian law,” said Svitlana Shatalova, Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Health, at a press conference on Thursday.
The nondisclosure agreements allow pharmaceutical companies to negotiate prices, delivery times and other terms for vaccine deals without governments or their citizens comparing the deals with those of other nations.
According to a document that a European official falsely posted on social media in December and quickly deleted, the European Union has negotiated a cheaper price for Pfizer’s vaccine – € 12 or about $ 14.60 per dose – than the US government, who agreed to pay $ 19.50 per dose dose. European nations tend to pay much lower prices for medicines than the United States.
In Ukraine, there has been no evidence of corruption in the vaccine deal that has already been concluded, and no evidence that any money was stolen as part of the procurement process.
In order to meet the confidentiality demands of vaccine manufacturers, the government has been forced to act in ways that are contrary to the clean government policies that the United States and other western countries have urged Ukraine to adopt, according to MP Shatalova Health Minister.
At a Cabinet meeting earlier this month, the government banned state-owned Medical Procurement Company from vaccine negotiations without making a full statement.
The Department of Health said at the time that it would instead negotiate through an international nonprofit group, Crown Agents, to help developing countries get medical care. Ms. Shatalova’s statement on Thursday was the first to link the change to vaccine manufacturers’ confidentiality policies.
The director of the Medical Procurement Company, Arsen Zhumadilov, has objected to the change. In an interview, he said his organization was set up in a government office “as a safeguard” against the concentration of millions of dollars in buying the most socialized medical system in the country – a dead end of corrupt trade for years before the revolution.
Ukraine has already bought a coronavirus vaccine from the Chinese company Sinovac. In that deal, Sinovac allowed the Ukrainian government to publish some, but not all, of the terms of the deal. It emerged that Ukraine paid $ 18 per dose for 1.9 million doses, but did not disclose fees paid to an intermediary Ukrainian company, Lekhim.
The Ministry of Health in Ukraine has been under attack since the end of last year for not having signed a vaccine contract with a Western supplier. Russia has been promoting its Sputnik V vaccine as an alternative, but many Ukrainians are wary of relying on a country they are at war with for the life-saving doses.
In any case, an export ban by the Trump administration will delay shipments of American-made vaccines until the end of this year until US demand is met. Ukraine has been looking for vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, as well as Johnson & Johnson, which experts said are likely to receive approval for their product from safety authorities in Europe in the coming weeks.
Ukraine, which has registered around 1.2 million coronavirus cases and around 22,000 deaths, is expected to start getting enough vaccines for February or March as part of the Covax program, a global initiative to work with manufacturers to ensure equitable access about 10 percent of their population get vaccines too.