Representational Image. (File photo)
Representational Image. (File photo)

Nepal signed non-disclosure agreement for Sinopharm jabs: Report

The Nepal government has been desperately looking for alternate sources of vaccines after India temporarily halted the export of jabs in late March to cope with a devastating second wave
PUBLISHED ON JUN 07, 2021 12:52 PM IST

Nepal has had to sign a non-disclosure agreement with the makers of China’s Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine in order to gain access to doses amid questions about the legality of such an undertaking, according to a media report on Monday.

The Nepal government has been desperately looking for alternate sources of vaccines after India temporarily halted the export of jabs in late March to cope with a devastating second wave. Close to a million people in Nepal who received the first dose of the Covishield vaccine are currently waiting for their second dose after the passage of more than two months.

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Sinopharm’s proposal for a non-disclosure agreement created a dilemma among officials of Nepal’s health ministry as the country’s laws don’t have a provision for non-disclosure agreements in public procurements, The Kathmandu Post reported.

“The non-disclosure agreement was signed on Friday [June 4] between the Department of Health Services and Sinopharm electronically,” an unnamed official of the department told The Post. “After the Health Ministry authorised the director general to sign the agreement with Sinopharm, the agreement was signed.”

The official further said the China National Pharmaceutical Group, the maker of Sinopharm, will quote a price after Nepal states how many doses it intends to procure. “Then the procurement process will move forward. I cannot say when the vaccines will be available,” the official said.

Roshan Pokharel, the chief specialist at Nepal’s health ministry, said the government plans to buy 10 million doses but the Chinese side has said it cannot make this quantity available immediately. “We will initially get probably two million doses,” he said.

China earlier supplied 1.8 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine as grants to Nepal.

Nepal’s Public Procurement Act of 2007 and the recent Covid-19 Crisis Management Ordinance are silent on non-disclosure agreements, though they allow the government to procure directly from suppliers or manufacturers without competitive bidding in extraordinary situations.

According to Nepal’s Public Procurement Monitoring Office, details of all procurements must be disclosed under the existing law, except in situations where the government procures defence-related materials that are sensitive from a national security point of view.

“If the existing procurement law and the ordinance don’t allow us to procure the much-needed vaccines through the non-disclosure agreement, the procurement process can move ahead only through a policy decision of the Cabinet,” said Taranath Pokharel, director of the Family Welfare Division of Nepal’s health ministry.

“I think the Cabinet will take a decision to facilitate the vaccine procurement in the current pressing time,” he added.

The controversy over Sinopharm vaccine in Nepal follows rows related to the jab in other countries.

The procurement price of the Sinopharm vaccine in Sri Lanka triggered a row after reports emerged that Colombo paid a higher per-dose price than Bangladesh. Sri Lanka is paying $15 a dose, or $5 higher than what Bangladesh paid.

Bahrain, which was one of the first countries to back the Sinopharm vaccine last year, has raised doubts about the jab’s effectiveness. Bahraini officials recently told the media that authorities will offer the Pfizer vaccine to high-risk individuals who had received two Sinopharm doses because these jabs didn’t appear to be enough in the face of a new wave of Covid-19 infections in the West Asian country.

Last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) granted emergency use listing to Sinopharm, making it the first vaccine developed by China to be given such an approval.

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