The Health Justice Initiative (HJI) has filed papers asking to join a case against the Minister of Health and 16 others seeking to allow the private sector to procure Covid-19 vaccines.

The public health and law initiative, set up to address the intersection between racial and gender inequality specifically focusing on access to life-saving diagnostics, treatment, and vaccines, have applied to be allowed, as a friend of the court, to provide expert evidence in the case brought by civil society group AfriForum and trade union Solidarity.

A News24 report notes that the HJI position is that with high demand for vaccines and limited supply, private sector procurement independent and outside of a national strategy would place vulnerable and marginalised persons at higher risk. HJI head Fatima Hassan said: "Any attempt at queue-jumping to access Covid-19 vaccines at the expense of others who need it more will worsen pandemic outcomes and exacerbate and entrench health inequities in our country. We need one plan for an effective and equitable vaccine rollout for our country."

In January, AfriForum and Solidarity filed papers seeking a declaratory order allowing the private sector and provincial health bodies to procure and distribute a Covid-19 vaccine.

The organisations also want the court to declare the government's centralised Covid-19 vaccine strategy unconstitutional and unlawful. In its application, the HJI raises concerns about the structural inequality and unequal access to healthcare systems in the country.

"This case raises important questions related to the harm which may be caused by non-state actors and/or provincial government(s) if they are authorised to procure vaccines without oversight and overall management by national government, and outside a national strategy that includes all role players," points out the initiative.

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