By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
The parents of 19 children who died from Acute Kidney Injury (AKI) have filed a lawsuit against Maiden Pharmaceuticals, Atlantic Pharmaceuticals, the Medicines Control Agency (MCA), the Ministry of Health and the Attorney General on 30th June 2023.
The lawsuit filed by Lawyer Loubna Farage, Lawyer Salieu Taal for the Gambia Bar Association and Lawyer Anna Njie of the Female Lawyers Association of The Gambia, is requesting three declarations from the government, the cancellation of an importation license and damages to the tune of D285 million.
According to a Parliamentary Inquiry Report into the AKI outbreak, it was recommended for the “government to pursue legal action against Maiden Pharmaceuticals”, however, the same report cleared Atlantic Pharmaceuticals by claiming that their Parliamentary “investigation has revealed that Atlantic Pharmaceuticals in The Gambia had followed all regulations for the importation of medicines including the batch that had the contaminated syrups”.
After the AKI Parliamentary Report was issued on 20th December 2022 the government has failed to act on the recommendation to take legal action, however, 19 bereaved parents of AKI have now decided to take matters into their own hands to take both institutions and the government to court.
According to the claims in the Writ of Summons, the bereaved parents of AKI (plaintiffs) are calling for a declaration from the government that their children died from the consumption of contaminated medicines namely “Promethazine Oral Solution, Kofexmalin Baby Cough Syrup, Makoff Baby Cough Syrup and Magrip N Cold Syrup” all manufactured in India by Maiden Pharmaceuticals and imported and distributed in The Gambia by Atlantic Pharmaceuticals.
After at least 66 children had died from AKI by early October 2022, the World Health Organisation (WHO) extended expert support to The Gambia Government and confirmed that the children died from consuming contaminated cough syrups. However, conflicting information from MCA Officials and the Minister of Health began making the rounds with both claiming that the cause of deaths was still being established and could have been caused by stagnated water from the rains.
By the end of 2022, a total of 70 children were reported to have died from AKI. Unfortunately, this was not the end as more died in 2023.
The second claim calls for a declaration from the MCA admitting they “failed in their statutory duties to regulate” medicines in the country from importation to sales and distribution. The claim urges the MCA to acknowledge its failure to regulate the approval and registration system for medicines amongst others. Currently, the MCA does not have a lab to test medicines and has been testing medicines abroad. Reports from the government highlighted that the World Bank is funding the construction of one modern quality control lab.
The third claim from the bereaved parents solicits a declaration from the Ministry of Health for failing in its duties to “establish a framework” for the “procurement, distribution, management and use of health sector goods”. The declaration also urges the Ministry of Health to acknowledge its failure “to exercise oversight duties over the” MCA.
The fourth point in the Writ of Summons urges the courts to cancel the importation license issued to Atlantic Pharmaceuticals by the MCA. According to the Parliamentary Inquiry Report, “all the cases of AKI are linked to the consumption of the contaminated medical products imported by Atlantic Pharmaceuticals and manufactured by Maiden Pharmaceuticals”. Even though this was highlighted in the conclusion the report did not recommend any action towards Atlantic Pharmaceuticals.
Turning our attention to financial redress, the Writ of Summons prays on the court to grant each of the 19 parents damages for their child’s death in the amount of D5 million per child. This comes to a subtotal of D95 million for 19 children.
The Writ of Summons also requests for the courts to grant each of the 19 parents damages for “pain and suffering before their death” to the sum of D10 million per child. This comes to a subtotal of D190 million.
If the court rules in favour of the parents, then they could be awarded a grand total of D285 million in damages.
It must be recalled that towards the end of December 2022, the President established a Task Force to investigate the AKI Deaths which submitted its report to the President on April 11th 2023. At least three children have died in 2023 from AKI, increasing the death toll to 73 children with the most recent known death coming on 14th April 2023, just days after the President received the AKI Investigation Report.
The bereaved parents of AKI have called on the government to share the AKI Investigation Report with them. The report is still yet to be made public.