Opinion Women & Children's Affairs

The Death of 69 Children: Mr. President, you can as well call it “Mass Murder”

Pa Louis Thomasi

“I believe the children are the future, teach them well and let them lead the way show them all the beauty they possess inside, give them a sense of pride to make it easier, let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be”. Greatest love of all. So said “The Voice”, Whitney Houston, one of the greatest female pop stars of all time. In our dear motherland of The Gambia, 69 innocent children never had the chance to step into the future nor a chance to say a final goodbye to their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters and loved ones. They all died prematurely between the months of July – and October due to the administration of “contaminated” medication that has a high concentration of “unacceptable amounts of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol” which can be toxic when consumed, causing fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pains, convulsions and acute kidney injuries.

I would therefore like to seize this opportunity to extend my sincere condolences to all the families, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, and loved ones, who lost their children in this horrific national tragedy. We pray that God Almighty, in his infinite mercy and wisdom will receive the souls of all these innocent children in His bosom and give them eternal rest. Lord, may you give their parents the strength to should on.

Mr. President, you can as well call what has happened between July and October in our dear motherland “Mass Murder”. President Barrow, you cannot “commend the Ministry of Health for their diligence” when 69 children died prematurely under their care. Any attempt to shield the Ministry of Health from blame in this horrific saga can only be a deliberate attempt to deny these innocent children justice. The death of any Gambian child prematurely should be seen as a great loss to the country and here we are talking about 69 deaths. It is just unacceptable.

In my honest view, the Ministry of Health failed the Gambian people by allowing drugs from the New Delhi-based Maiden Pharmaceuticals to enter the country. The Ministry of Health should know beyond all reasonable doubt that Maiden Pharmaceuticals is a death trap, a highway to Golgotha as it has a very murky record. The Ministry should know without any iota of doubt that Maiden Pharmaceuticals has been “embroiled in controversy in the past decade”. In 2011, the Bihar Government blacklisted Maiden Pharmaceuticals for “supplying sub-standard drugs”. Mr. President, the Ministry of Health should have known that Maiden Pharmaceuticals “according to the Government of India’s Xtended Licensing, Laboratory, and Legal Node (XLN) database, Gujarat and Kerela have reported sub-standard batches of medicine produced by Maiden Pharmaceuticals at least six times in the past nine years”. The Ministry of Health should know that the four drugs, at the heart of the controversy, namely “Promethazine Oral Solution BP, Kofexnalin Baby Cough Syrup, MaKoff Baby Cough Syrup, and MaGrip n Cold Syrup, are not sold in India” by Maiden Pharmaceuticals.

According to the Economic Times of India, “In 2018 an Indian Government Drug Inspector prosecuted Maiden Pharmaceuticals for quality violations under the Drug and Cosmetics Acts. Maiden Pharmaceuticals was also dragged to court in 2017 in Kerala and fined in relation to a prosecution filed by a Drug Inspector in 2005. It is also reported that Maiden Pharmaceuticals is one of 39 companies blacklisted by Vietnam for “violation of Quality Control Regulation and Drug Regulations”. Lastly, the Ministry of Health of the Gambia if they have done their homework very well, should have known that in 2019, Indian pharma companies received 19 warning letters mostly from the Office of Manufacturing Quality, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Has the Ministry of Health been able to make a profile of all these pharma companies?

If therefore the Ministry of Health in its entirety, is not aware of these violations by this sub-standard company, then there is something fundamentally wrong at the Ministry. Our friends on the other side of the divide say that ignorance of the law is not an excuse.

Mr. President, with all due respect, your assertion that “The child mortality figure of sixty-nine is not at much variance with the recorded data for similar periods in the past” is the most irresponsible statement that you have ever uttered in your life. The assertion is inhumane, lacks apathy, is unwarranted, unkind, delusional, deceptive, and illusive. How dear you try to make any kind of comparison between a systematic pattern of death with a common denominator within a period of three months to the variance and data collected in the past that has a heterogeneous composition of various causes of death, including malaria. How dear you? There cannot be any cover-up in this matter. As a nation, we must all stand firm to ensure that we dig into this matter collectively in order to find out how these poisonous drugs entered The Gambia in the first place? Without prejudice, we must fish out those responsible and there cannot be any sacred cows. We must also ensure justice for the innocent children.

Mr. President, it is crystal clear that our country in neck-deep in corruption and you must put your foot down heavily in order to stamp out corruption, especially at the governmental level. Mr. President, I cannot see the rationale of any Gambian seeking to acquire a Pharmacy License when you are fully aware that you do not have the finances to import medicines but trying to search for financial partners some of whom can be very unscrupulous. This is the same problem in the fisheries industry where some Gambians who do not even have a paddle are in possession of fishing licences and perambulating Dakar and its environs periodically searching for Japanese, Chinese or Egyptian companies that they can work with. These acts of corruption must come to an end and the earlier the better for our nation. Gambians who have the competence and knowledge should be empowered to excel in their chosen disciplines without any form of favouritism.

Mr. President as a start, your Government should quickly revisit its policies and strategies on all pharmacies and pharmacy license holders in order to prevent any further occurrence. Mr. President you must stick to your guns to investigate “the source of the contaminated drugs and the circumstances and procedures for importation of medicine into the country” and leave no stone to get to the bottom of this matter. Mr. President this is NOT a natural disaster it is a manmade disaster that has all the hallmarks of negligence, greed and selfishness. Mr. President, heads must roll and this is unavoidable. In fact, as a start, the Minister of Health, Lamin Samateh, must Go or be suspended indefinitely as there can be no meaningful independent and impartial investigation into this saga with Samateh still sitting as Minister. There is always a possibility of officials tampering with evidence.

Stand up and be counted Mr. President. For the Gambia Our Homeland.

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