Thousands of Covid-19 test kits go missing

KABUL (Pajhwok): Thousands of Covid-19 test kits donated by the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Russia, the Islamic Development Bank and UNDP are no longer available at the Ministry of Public Health, Pajhwok Afghan News findings show.
Pajhwok has obtained the list of Covid test kits provided by foreign countries and institutions. It reads: “The test kits were donated to the ministry by WHO, UNDP, UNICEF, the Chamber of Commerce of Azerbaijan, China, International Atomic Energy Agency, Navid Hewad and Amotrex companies.”
Based on information from MoPH: China and the Chambers of Commerce donated 23,600 VTM samples, UNDP provided 20 VTM kits, IAEA delivered 10 DNA-RNA kits, UNICEF gave 500 kits containing 10 cartridges, 111,000 rapid test kits were delivered under the contract signed with Navid Hewad and Amotrex firms, WHO provided 2,000 VTM kits, 719 RNA kits and 250 test kits were donated by WHO, 80 RNA extraction and 250 test kits were given by WHO, Azerbaijan donated 2,175 test kits.
But the list of donations from institutions and countries for combating Covid-19 published on the website of the Ministry of Finance says: UAE provided 50,000 test kits worth $3 million, Iran donated 5,000 kits, Russia provided 5,000 kits on June 2, 2020, Islamic Development Bank delivered kits worth $300,000, UNDP provided MoPH test and protection kits worth $2.45 million from its domestic budget through the International Islamic Institute for Culture and Education.
The MoF list indicates in addition to other assistance, partner institutions and countries donated diagnostic kits worth millions of dollars the MoPH. However, the MoPH list does not include kits donated by the UAE, Russia, Iran, the Islamic Development Bank and the UNDP. Pajhwok’s findings show:
With the outbreak of Covid-19 in Afghanistan and the shortage of diagnostic kits, Iran handed over 2,000 such kits to the Afghan embassy in Tehran on April 28, 2020. Iran is committed to providing another 3,000 kits to the Afghan embassy. So, a total of 5,000 kits have been donated by Iran. Wahidullah Mayar, former spokesman for MoPH, said on March 3, 2020 that the UAE would provide Afghanistan 50,000 Covid test kits worth $3 million.
On June 2, 2020, Dmitry Alexandrovich Zhirnov, the Russian ambassador in Kabul, delivered an aid package of 5,000 coronavirus test kits to Afghanistan. Bashir Noormal, deputy minister of policy and planning, asked Russia for more cooperation in the fight against the coronavirus in Afghanistan.
Hussain Afni Botsali, ambassador of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, delivered an aid package to MoPH on June 6, 2020. The Islamic Development Bank had announced allocating $2.2 billion to OIC members to fight the virus. Of the allocated amount, $300,000 was meant for providing Afghanistan Covid test kits. The International Islamic Institute for Culture and Education donated $ 2.5 million to MoPH for diagnostic kits and protective medical supplies.
Pajhwok’s findings show that when all the kits donated by these countries and institutions to Afghanistan are compared to the list sent to Pajhwok MoPH, there is a huge difference in the availability of such kits in this ministry. MoPH says since the outbreak of the first wave of the pandemic, 1,249 test and 136,600 VTN kits have been distributed to central and provincial hospitals. Ten DNA-RNA kits (250 type) donated by AIAEA, are available with the ministry.
There are 1,977 Covid test kits were given by Azerbaijan and 9,158 supplied under the contract with Navid Hewad and Atmotrex Companies. They are also available with MoPH.
Difference in prices of test kits:
Documents obtained by Pajhwok signal a difference between the market rate of rapid test kits and the price paid by MoPH. This price variance reflects possible embezzlement. The MoPH list of contracts shows 100,000 rapid test kits were purchased, each costing 438.9 afghanis. The same kit is priced at 390-400 afghanis in the market.
With this in mind, the total price of the 100,000 rapid test kits comes to $570,000, — or 43,890,000 afghanis. The market price is about 40 million afghanis. Thus, there is a difference of about four million afghanis in this contract based on current market rate. Based on a single source and excluding the bidding process, the contract was inked with the Navid Hewad Company on May 30, 2020. But the firm was declared the winner of the contract.
Similarly, under another contract signed by the ministry, 10,000 rapid test kits were purchased — each costing 1,173 afghanis. The price of 10,000 such kits reaches 11,730,000 afghanis, but their total market rate of each kit is about 400 afghanis. On the other hand, in another contract of the ministry, each kit was purchased for 438.9 afghanis.
Pajhwok’s findings show that the only difference in price between the two contracts of the MoPH for the purchase of kits is 743 afghanis. If the contract price of 10,000 rapid test kits is compared to the market rate, it one can see an extra amount of 7,730,000 afghanis was paid to the company. Looking at the prices cited in the two other MoPH contracts, one can easily draw the conclusion that an additional 7,341,000 afghanis was paid to the second contractor. Pajhwok’s findings show this contract was also signed between the MoPH and Amotrex on May 12, 2020, based on a single source and without bidding.
Concerns of medicine sellers: Asadullah Kakar, head of the Afghan Medicine Traders’ Union, said MoPH had never signed a contract with them. He said if the ministry had awarded contracts to the union, Afghan medicine traders would have cooperated with it on arranging necessary materials and medicines at reasonable price.
“Unfortunately, a number of companies that obtain licences win contracts from MoPH,” he lamented, alleging the ministry did not invite representatives of this union to bidding. He cited the Amotrex and Navid Hewad as examples, saying the two companies were not members of the Afghan medicine trader’s union. Both had won contracts from MoPH, he said.
Use of unreliable kits: During the first wave of Covid-19 in Afghanistan, hospitals widely used rapid testing kits before the arrival of PCR machines and RNA kits in the country. Which type of diagnosis is reliable? Dr. Syed Mohammad Sidiq Hashimi, director of a private lab in Kabul, told that a rapid test, as its name implied, indicated in a short period of time whether or not an individual had contracted the virus. Such tests were frequent in the market at low prices and government hospitals conducted these tests extensively, he continued.
He said although the test determined the patient’s result within 15 minutes, there was five to 10 percent chances of erroneous results. Dr. Hashimi believed if 100 patients underwent rapid lab tests, 5 to 10 could get wrong result. That was why these test results were not acceptable to WHO. However, information from MoPH suggests the General Directorate of Therapeutic Medicine has found that the accuracy of rapid tests in Afghanistan is less than 80 percent. Based on a survey by the directorate, out of every 100 who underwent rapid tests for Covid-19, more than 20 received incorrect results.
Citizen concerns about lack of tests: Kabul residents say during the first wave of the coronavirus, doctors conducted typhoid tests on patients due to lack of kits at hospitals. An individual diagnosed with typhoid was presumed to be suffering from Covid-19. But findings show that during the first wave of the coronavirus, some hospitals conducted rapid tests.
About PCR tests, Dr. Hashimi said most hospitals preferred RNA and PCR tests, whose accuracy is much than rapid tests and is accepted by WHO. According to him, although, PCR test results take about four hours, most hospitals conduct such tests for accuracy reasons. In addition to Afghan-Japan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and 100-bed Qasaba hospitals, a number of private facilities are currently conducting Covid-19 tests in Kabul.
MoPH officials decline to comment: The ministry’s media wing did not respond to questions from Pajhwok. But a few days later, Dr. Mustafa, in charge the campaign against Covid-19, was tasked with answering the questions. Dr. Mustafa said: “I cannot confirm this. I will have to check this information and it will take time…”