Lawyering associations in the Gambia demand independent inquiry into cough syrup deaths

The World Health Organisation (WHO) last week, issued a global alert, warning that four Indian-manufactured cough syrups could be linked to acute kidney injuries and children's deaths in July, August, and September.

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The Gambia Bar Association and the Female Lawyers Association of the Gambia (FLAG) are asking the Adama Barrow-led government to set up an independent inquiry, following the deaths of 69 children in the Gambia from acute kidney injuries, linked to the consumption of imported cough syrups from India.

“We recommend the constitution of an independent inquiry with multiple stakeholders and experts, including the National Human Rights Commission, to provide answers to the public and the bereaved families following the deaths presumably linked to the importation and consumption of the substandard medications,” the associations said in a statement, signed by Bar President Salieu Taal and FLAG President, Anna A.B. Njie.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) last week, issued a global alert, warning that four cough syrups (Promethazine Oral Solution, Kofexmalin Baby Cough Syrup, Makoff Baby Couch Syrup and Magrip N Cough Syrup) from India manufacturer, Maiden Pharmaceuticals could be linked to acute kidney injuries and the children's deaths in July, August, and September.

However, both associations while demanding for answers over the situation, noted that the agency charged to ensure the quality and safety of medicines, ought to have known the manufacturer's reputation and credibility were “dubious.”

“The importation of pharmaceutical products in The Gambia is regulated and administered by the Medicines Control Agency (MCA) in accordance with the Medicines and Related Products Act 2014. The primary responsibility of the MCA under the act is to regulate the quality and safety of medicines and related products. The GBA and FLAG are gravely concerned that contaminated pediatric medicinal products were imported into the country from a manufacturer whose reputation and credibility according to widely available public records is dubious. 

We trust that it is the responsibility of the body charged with regulating the pharmaceutical industry to ensure that the quality and standard of drugs imported into the country are safe for human consumption. The general populace has the right to know how such dangerous/contaminated and unsafe products were allowed into the country and administered to children,” the statement said. 

They also jointly state the inquiry should focus on; 

a) How were the substandard medications manufactured by Maiden Pharmaceutical imported and distributed in the country? 

b) The role of the Ministry of Health, the Medicines Control Agency, and Pharmacy Council in the importation of the substandard medications in The Gambia? 

c) Does the Medicines Control Agency have sufficient capacity to ensure quality and safety of drugs imported into the country? If not, what steps is the Government taking to increase the Agency’s capacity? 

d) What steps will the Government take to re-examine the import license regime, the regulatory framework, and its efficacy in ensuring quality control and early detection of substandard products before its entry into the country? 

e) What are the plans in place to prevent a reoccurrence of incidents such as the death of the 69 children?