By Edrissa Jallow
The Gambia’s Health Minister, Dr Ahmadou Lamin Samateh has confirmed that three more children have died as a result of Acute Kidney Injury (AKI), bringing the death toll up from 66 children to 69 innocent souls. Minister Samateh, made this revelation to members of the press during an emergency press conference yesterday evening, Saturday 8th October 2022.
Barely two months back, the Ministry of Health (MoH) published a situation report on Wednesday 10th August 2022, confirming that AKI had claimed the lives of 28 children out of 35 patients, all below the age of 5 years. At that stage, samples were sent to Senegal for testing and eventual analysis. The Gambia currently sends lab samples for testing because of the lack of facilities to conduct all the required tests locally.
During yesterday’s briefing with the media, Minister Samateh highlighted that some AKI patients are currently receiving treatment in Senegal. According to Minister Samateh, “the total number of patients who have Acute Kidney Injury as we speak is eighty-one (81) and on receiving the mortality figures from Senegal as well, where some of the patients were taken to, we now have a total mortality of sixty-nine (69)”.
Minister Samateh Claims WHO Broke Protocol
In a follow-up to the MoH’s investigation, the support of the World Health Organisation (WHO) was confirmed when their officials arrived in the Gambia to help ascertain the causes of AKI.
After the WHO’s assessment, a global alert was issued on 5th October 2022 highlighting that at least four samples of “substandard” syrup were the cause of the death of at least 66 children in The Gambia. The medical product alert states that the four products are Promethazine Oral Solution, Kofexmalin Baby Cough Syrup, Makoff Baby Cough Syrup and Magrip N Cold Syrup.
The alert highlights that “the stated manufacturer of these products is Maiden Pharmaceuticals Limited (Haryana, India)” and that “to date, the stated manufacturer has not provided guarantees to WHO on the safety and quality of these products”.
Raising the alert across the globe, WHO added that “to date, these four products have been identified in The Gambia, but may have been distributed, through informal markets, to other countries or regions”.
The WHO’s statement presented a concern for India’s multi-billion US Dollar Pharmaceutical Industry. According to a press release issued by India’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry on 1st May 2022 “India ranks 3rd worldwide for production by volume and 14th by value”. The presser adds that “the current market size of the Indian pharmaceutical industry is around USD 50 billion” for the year 2021.
Raising concerns about WHO’s alleged breach, Minister Samateh said that his Ministry was waiting for the result from the laboratory testing centre, however, the WHO went and announced the result which he said wasn’t the formal protocol. He revealed that the WHO has extended a message of apology for failing to observe the formal protocol of information.
According to Minister Samateh, the investigation of the cause of the death of the children is not finalized yet because “there are a lot of other things [that] need to be done to know exactly the cause of Acute Kidney Infection and the cause of death of these children even though we highly suspect the contaminated medicinal product”.
Indian Government Says Drugs Not Sold in India
A statement issued by the Indian Government’s Information Bureau notes that their “State Drug Controller had given licenses to the said Company only for export of these four drugs” and that all the “four drugs manufactured only for exports by M/s. Maiden Pharmaceuticals Limited are not licensed for manufacture and sale in India”.
“In effect, none of these four drugs of M/s. Maiden Pharmaceuticals is sold domestically in India,” added the statement. More worryingly the release adds that “the company has manufactured and exported these products only to [The] Gambia”.
Not only is the Gambia alleged to be the sole destination for these deadly concoctions the statement adds that “it is a usual practice that the importing country tests these imported products on quality parameters, and satisfies itself as to the quality of the products before the importing country decides to release such products for usage in the country”.
Speaking at the emergency press conference, the Deputy Executive Director of the Medicines Control Agency (MCA) confirmed that the Indian company has been supplying drugs to The Gambia for the past 24 years.
In a statement that won’t give confidence to Gambians, the MCA revealed that they don’t have “inspectors yet in the regions” however, a special unit at the MCA called the Inspectorate Unit goes out quarterly to the regions for inspection of drugs.
President Barrow Orders Suspension
In a follow-up to President Adama Barrow’s speech on 7th October 2022, the State House issued a statement the following day, 8th October 2022 ordering the Medicine Control Agency to suspend all the licenses of suspected importers and pharmacies throughout the country.
“As a further cause of action, the suspected pharmacy owner and importer of the drug syrups, as well as Senior Officials of the Medicine Control Agency, have been called for questioning by The Gambia Police Force to assist in their investigation” the release further said.
According to a news report by The Times of India, Maiden Pharmaceuticals is a repeat offender and has been red-flagged over poor quality medicines in India and abroad over 14 times resulting in numerous deaths. The highest death reported was 33 in Delhi.