Gambia’s Cough Syrup Tragedy Trial Reopened 

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The trial regarding the contaminated syrup scandal that resulted in infant deaths in the Gambia last year was reopened before the Banjul High Court on November 7, 2023.

Nineteen plaintiffs are suing five defendants, including Maiden Pharmaceuticals Company, local distributor Atlantic Pharmaceuticals, the Medical Controls Agency, the Ministry of Health, and Attorney General Dawda A. Jallow, because in 2022, 70 children under the age of five died from kidney failure after taking the over-the-counter medicines.

The grieving parents urged President Adama Barrow’s administration to act in an October 2022 interview.

“President Barrow should sack the health minister, but instead of sacking him, he was praising the minister; we want justice for these children,” said Wuri Bailo Keita, whose two-year-old daughter Fatoumatta was among the victims.

The trial was delayed in July and then postponed in October after the five defendants did not attend the hearing.

The Health Ministry, Medical Control Agency, and Attorney General filed a motion to postpone the start of the trial, arguing that they were not served subpoenas in time to familiarise themselves with the lawsuit. Judge Ebrima Jaiteh of Banjul denied the motion, and the three were ordered to pay 10,000 dalasis to the plaintiffs.

The judge adjourned the proceedings until November 7 after finding that three state defendants had failed to appear due to a lack of diligence.

Despite the plaintiffs demanding about $230,000 per child in damages, Maiden Pharmaceuticals Company is still denying the allegations that the children were killed by consuming contaminated medicines, hence suing the Medical Control Agency for acknowledging that it did not fulfil its legal obligation to control the efficacy and security of pharmaceuticals.

Beginning in September 2022, Gambia issued an order for the recall of all products made by the Indian laboratory Maiden Pharmaceuticals, the source of the contaminated syrups, as well as a number of cough and cold remedies.

The children’s deaths were attributed to four cough syrups imported from India, but in July, the Gambian health authorities raised the possibility that the E. coli bacteria may have also been to blame. This led India to shut down the Maiden Pharmaceuticals plant in October, following further investigations.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that toxic levels of ethylene glycol and diethylene glycol, which are frequently used as antifreeze and can be lethal if consumed, were discovered in laboratory tests.

300 children in Gambia, Indonesia, and Uzbekistan died as a result of poisoned cough syrups, leading WHO to call for “immediate and coordinated action” to end non-compliant and falsified medicines in January.

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