Ministry probes claim of conflict of interest in rabies vaccines

national March 22, 2018 01:00

By The Nation

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FORMER OFFICIAL’S WIFE OWNS SUPPLIER FIRM BUT IT'S NOT LINKED TO SUBSTANDARD VACCINE



THE AGRICULTURE and Cooperatives Ministry will set up a committee to investigate reports that conflicts of interest have plagued its procurement of anti-rabies vaccines. 

One of the chosen suppliers for the ministry’s Livestock Development Department (LDD) is Numtis Thai Company Limited, whose owner is the wife of a former senior official. 

“But to avoid conflict of interest, Numtis Thai has never joined any of our auctions since that official was promoted to the post of the LDD deputy director-general, or since 2014,” LDD director-general Apai Suttisunk said yesterday.

He said he had long known that Numtisthai’s owner was married to Pairoj Hangsaengchai, a veterinarian and former LDD official. 

At present, Pairoj serves as a deputy director-general of the Queen Sirikit Department of Sericulture, and Apai said Pairoj was not involved in Numtis Thai’s business in any way. 

“But given that reports of alleged conflict of interest have emerged, the Agriculture and Coooperatives Ministry will launch an investigation,” he said. 

Numtis Thai did not supply the substandard anti-rabies vaccines to the LDD, Apai said. 

“The substandard anti-rabies vaccines were supplied by Vet Agritech Company Limited,” Apai said. 

He said Vet Agritech had won an auction to supply anti-rabies vaccines to the LDD in the 2017 fiscal year, which began on October 1, 2016. The project for the procurement was worth Bt14 million. The firm has been blacklisted after its product, imported from Spain, was found to be substandard.

Dr Supaporn Phumiamorn, who heads the Biological Products Institute, said her agency had joined with the LDD and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to randomly check the quality of anti-rabies vaccines. This began after a dog seller at Bangkok’s Chatuchak Weekend Market was infected with rabies apparently from dogs that had been immunised, and suspicious rabies cases were detected in the North. 

“Because of those cases, we suspected that there must have been something wrong with the vaccine,” she said. The tests subsequently showed that some batches of vaccine were substandard. 

FDA deputy secretary-general Dr Surachoke Tangwiwat said after this was detected, the importer of the vaccine was told to recall its products. 

He said prior to 2016, eight firms had registered anti-rabies vaccines with the FDA. After the issue of substandard vaccines emerged, just seven remain on the authorised list. 

Surachoke added: “We have cancelled the registered vaccine of Union Agriphar Co Ltd because of substandard problems.” 

It remains unclear as to whether Union Agriphar and Vet Agritech are related. 

Thailand has imported about 8 million doses of anti-rabies vaccines each year. Of this amount, 1 million doses are for the LDD and the rest are for use in the private sector. 

The availability of anti-rabies vaccine has become an issue because many provinces are now declared rabies zones, and people have suspected that the use of substandard vaccines might have led to the spread of the disease. 

Meanwhile, public-health officials yesterday started giving rabies shots to 143 people in Buri Ram province after a 14-year-old schoolgirl died of rabies.

The girl, who died on March 17, became the first rabies victim in Buri Ram and sixth in the country this year. The other deaths occurred in Surin, Songkhla, Trang, Nakhon Ratchasima, and Phrachuap Khiri Khan provinces.

In another development, Krabi public health office chief Dr Apichai Limanon issued a warning after finding six dogs with rabies infection in the southern province on Tuesday. 

Animal lovers, meanwhile, have continued to campaign against plans to eradicate stray dogs in the wake of rabies outbreaks.

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