Gambians demand justice for cough syrup-related deaths

Gambians have gathered at a square in SereKunda, outside the capital Banjul, to mourn the deaths of over 66 children killed by India-made cough syrups.

They also prayed for those still in a critical condition.

“We are having a candlelight vigil and a prayer service to make a call to action for the 66 children that died as a result of negligence,” rights activist Madi Jobarteh said.

Jobarteh blamed the tragedy on the government’s failure to ensure systems were working in such a way that it would not have allowed harmful drugs to enter the country and kill children.

Gambians lit candles to mourn the deceased children
Wrong diagnosis blamed

Gambians are also demanding justice for the children.

According to a report, New Delhi has suspended the drug manufacturers licenses, and it has begun investigation inro the tragedy.

India’s medical regulatory body, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO), announced it had launched an investigation into Maiden Pharmaceuticals, the maker of four cough and cold syrups.

The World Health Organization (WHO) last week said the companies might be responsible for the deaths of dozens of children in The Gambia.

Three more children admitted to hospital after consuming the allegedly tainted syrup died over the weekend with acute kidney injury.

Gambian authorities say 81 more children remain in hospital.

“I don’t think such thing should happen in The Gambia,” Alasan Kamaso, who lost his two-year-old son Musa, said.

Drug regulators from the CDSCO and India’s Haryana state government are examining controlled samples from the batches sent to authorities.

It took Gambian authorities four days to link the suspicious deaths to kidney injuries after blood samples were sent to neighboring Senegal.

The Gambia does not have testing equipment available to detect such cases. Doctors instead treated the children for malaria, asthma, and meningitis.

Last week, the WHO issued an alert against four cough and cold syrups — Promethazine Oral Solution, Kofexmalin Baby Cough Syrup, Makoff Baby Cough Syrup, and Magrip N Cold Syrup — that it says may be responsible for the children’s deaths.

As a result, Gambian authorities were able to confiscate over 16,000 doses of medication — including paracetamol and cough syrup made by Indian manufacturer Maiden.

According to Kamaso, this was too little, too late. “After the death of the first few children, the government should have taken steps to find out the cause. Instead, it allowed it to [get] out of control,” she told reporters.

The WHO report says the children developed acute kidney injuries due to diethylene glycol poisoning discovered in the four syrups.

“The four syrups have been sent for testing at a regional drug testing lab in Chandigarh. The results of which will guide [a] further course of action,” an Indian health ministry official told DW.

Meanwhile, some Gambians have criticized President Adama Barrow for “downplaying” the death of the children. Speaking on national television, Barrow said the children’s deaths were not so different from the country’s infant mortality rate last year.

However, his office was quick to go into damage control by saying the president was explaining disease patterns and was not insensitive to the loss of lives.

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