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7 Nov 2023

Mail & Guardian

Gambia: Families sue Indian pharmaceutical and local distributor over deaths of children who consumed contaminated cough syrup

‘Gambia trial opens over children’s cough syrup deaths’ 26 October 2023

A trial opened this week in the Gambia’s capital, Banjul, over the deaths last year of children who took a cough syrup made by the India-based Maiden Pharmaceuticals. Some 70 children aged five and under died in 2022 after taking the over-the-counter medicines. Justice Ebrima Jaiteh adjourned the proceedings in the high court until 7 November after finding that three state defendants who had failed to appear “lacked diligence”. Nineteen plaintiffs representing family members who died filed the civil suit in July, according to Salieu Taal, president of the Gambia Bar Association and one of the lawyers representing them. The families are suing five defendants — Maiden Pharmaceuticals, local distributor Atlantic Pharmaceuticals, the Medical Controls Agency (MCA), the ministry of health and attorney general Dawda Jallow — to demand they admit that the children were killed by consuming contaminated medicines.

…Beginning in September last year, the Gambia ordered a recall of several cough and cold medications, as well as all products manufactured by Maiden Pharmaceuticals from which the syrups originated, after the deaths from kidney failure of at least 70 children. It subsequently banned all products from the Indian firm. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), lab tests found “unacceptable amounts” of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol, which are commonly used as antifreeze and can be fatal when ingested. These substances caused “acute kidney injury which may lead to death”, the agency has said. 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 victim

“We want justice for these children.” In July, a government taskforce announced its finding that four cough syrups imported from India were responsible for the deaths. At the time, Health Minister Dr Ahmadou Lamin Samateh said there were failings in regulatory and import checks of the medication, beginning with the products not being registered with the MCA. He said the agency’s head had been dismissed. The Gambian government also said it was exploring options to take legal action against the Indian manufacturer. In the aftermath of the scandal, India launched an investigation and shut down the Maiden Pharmaceuticals plant last October. In January, the WHO announced a call for “immediate and coordinated action” to eradicate non-compliant and falsified medicines, in particular tainted cough syrups linked to the deaths of 300 children in Gambia, Indonesia and Uzbekistan.