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Gambia Trial Opens Over Children’s Cough Syrup Deaths

A trial began Tuesday in The Gambia’s capital Banjul over the deaths of two tiny children who died last year after taking a cough medication manufactured by India-based Maiden Pharmaceuticals.

In 2022, 70 children aged 5 and under died after taking the over-the-counter medications, sparking a public outrage in the West African country of 2.5 million people.

Justice Ebrima Jaiteh of the Banjul High Court delayed the case to November 7 after concluding that three state defendants who failed to appear “lacked diligence.”

According to Salieu Taal, president of The Gambia Bar Association and one of the lawyers representing them, the civil claim was brought in July by nineteen plaintiffs representing family members who died.

The families have filed a lawsuit against five defendants, including Maiden Pharmaceuticals, local distributor Atlantic Pharmaceuticals, the Medical Controls Agency (MCA), the Ministry of Health, and Attorney General Dawda A. Jallow, demanding that they admit that the children died as a result of eating contaminated medicines.

They are also requesting that the MCA admit that it failed in its statutory obligation to regulate the quality and safety of medicines.

They are seeking damages of 15 million Dalasis (about $230,000) each child.

Motion dismissed

None of the five defendants were present on Tuesday.

The health ministry, MCA, and attorney general all asked for a delay in the commencement of the trial, which the judge denied. He ordered the three to pay the plaintiffs 10,000 Dalasis.

The trial was already postponed in July after the attorney general and the health ministry claimed they were not served with subpoenas in sufficient time to familiarize themselves with the litigation.

Following the deaths of at least 70 young children from renal failure, The Gambia ordered the recall of many cough and cold treatments, as well as all goods manufactured by the Indian laboratory Maiden Pharmaceuticals, from which the tainted syrups originated, beginning in September last year.

It subsequently banned all products from the Indian firm.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), lab testing discovered “unacceptable amounts” of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol, both of which are routinely used as antifreeze and can be lethal if consumed.

The hazardous impact of these drugs includes “acute kidney injury that may result in death,” according to the EPA.

‘Want justice’

Speaking to AFP in October 2022, grieving parents called on President Adama Barrow’s government to take action.

“President Barrow should sack the health minister, but instead of sacking him, he was praising the minister,” said Wuri Bailo Keita, whose two-year-old daughter Fatoumatta was among the victims.

“We want justice for these children.”

A government taskforce announced in July that four cough syrups supplied from India were to blame for the deaths.

At the time, Health Minister Dr Ahmadou Lamin Samateh stated that there were flaws in the medication’s regulatory and import procedures, beginning with the items not being registered with the MCA.

He stated that the agency’s director had been fired.

The Gambian government also stated that it was considering legal action against the Indian company.

Following the controversy, India began an investigation and shut down the Maiden Pharmaceuticals plant in October of last year.

The WHO issued a request in January for “immediate and coordinated action” to remove non-compliant and counterfeit medicines, namely tainted cough syrups connected to the deaths of 300 children in Gambia, Indonesia, and Uzbekistan.

Written by PH

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