The Gambia’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in a letter to the Ministry of Health has made 10 recommendations for the Ministry of Health over the deaths of 69 under 5 children in the country linked to imported medicines from India.
The recommendations include continue extensive sensitisation of the population in local languages about the risk of such drugs in the market, particularly in poor communities that may not be aware of the risks; and investigation and determination of the circumstances in which the drugs were imported into The Gambia; and immediately investigation and determination ofthe level of distribution of the drugs across the country; among others.
Below reads the National Human Rights Commission letter signed by its Chairman Emmanuel D. Joof, dated 7th October 2022 and addressed to Dr Ahmadou Lamin Samateh, Minister of Health.
RE: GRAVE CONCER REGADING THE DEATH OF SIXTY SIXSIXTY-SIX (66) CHILDREN IN THE GAMBIA LINKED TO SUBSTANDARD (CONTAMINATED) PAEDIATRIC MEDICINES
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) wishes to convey to your good Office our grave concern about the information circulating on WHO website, social media and other reputable media regarding the linkage between the death of about sixty-six (66) children due to Acute Kidney Injury (AKI) and four substandard medical products (Promethazine Oral Solution, Kofexmalin Baby Cough Syrup, Makoff Baby Cough Syrup and Magrip N Cold Syrup) that are manufactured by Maiden Pharmaceutical Limited (Haryana, India).
We recall that the outbreak of this ‘killer health condition’ amongst children under five years was first reported by the Ministry of Health in July this year, and at that time thirty-two (32) cases and 28 mortalities were confirmed. While the Commission recognises that matters of this nature require vigorous scientific and laboratory analysis to establish accurate facts, it is the view of the Commission that the death of 66 children in The Gambia has a significant bearing on the right to life of children, survival and development, and highest attainable standard of health. As a State organ with the mandate to promote and protect human rights, it is imperative to reiterate that right to life is inviolable and sacrosanct and everyone is under obligation to protect this right. The Children’s Act 2005 gives children the right to the best attainable state of physical and mental health and to be provided the best attainable state of health.
Thus, the loss of lives of children from a condition which could have been prevented if due diligence was absolutely taken into consideration regarding the products associated with their death is, in our considered view, a very serious violation of their fundamental human rights guaranteed under the 1997 Constitution, the Children’s Act 2005 and other regional and international legal instruments the Gambia is party to.
The Commission would like to draw your attention to the right to life as guaranteed in the 1997 Constitution of The Gambia. The Children’s Act 2005 also guarantees the right to survival and development of a child as well as the right to health and health services. In addition, international human rights law to which The Gambia is a party requires that when the right to life is violated, the State should undertake effective investigation to ensure accountability. The African Commission in its General Comment No. 3 on the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights: The Right to Life (Article 4) specifically provides that accountability, in this sense, requires investigation and, where appropriate, criminal prosecution. Accountability also encompasses measures of disciplinary action, institutional review, and reform. While the Commission notes that the number of casualties so far is estimated at 66 children, it is of the view that this is likely to be much higher than those reported.
The Commission reiterates that, the right to the highest attainable standard of health is a fundamental human right. General Comment No.14 of the International Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on the Right to the Highest Attainable Standard of Health (Art. 12) provides that the State has the obligation to protect the right to health including to control the marketing of medical equipment and medicines by third parties and to ensure that medical practitioners and other health professionals meet appropriate standards of education, skill, and ethical codes of conduct. In light of the foregoing, while the Commission takes cognisance of the steps taken thus far by the Government to address the situation, the Commission urges the Ministry of Health and the Medicine Control Agency, through concerted efforts to immediately stop and prevent the distribution and sale of substandard medicine and put in place lasting solutions to prevent their importation and distribution in The Gambia. The Commission further makes the following recommendations for your consideration:
1. Continue extensive sensitisation of the population in local languages about the risk of such drugs in the market, particularly in poor communities that may not be aware of the risks;
2. Investigate and determine the circumstances in which the drugs were imported into The Gambia;
3. Immediately investigate and determine the level of distribution of the drugs across the country;
4. Conduct rigorous laboratory testing regime for all medicines prior to being passed for public consumption, meanwhile medicines already in circulation should also be subjected to such testing process to confirm their suitability for consumption or otherwise for the purpose of protecting lives;
5. Immediately investigate the potential unreported causalities for further assessment; 6. Immediately recall all the identified drugs for further investigation into their content;
7. Immediately seek technical and financial assistance to strengthen regulations on the importation of drugs and pharmaceuticals in the Gambia;
8. Continue efforts to recall the affected drugs from the market for quick disposal; and
9. Explore the full latitude of the law for potential breaches of regulations/ laws on the importation/ procurement of drugs in The Gambia by individuals, corporations, and agencies; and
10. Provide effective remedies for all the affected victims and families.
In line with section 23 of the NHRC Act, you are further urged to kindly inform the Commission, within 30 days of the remedial measures you will undertake to give effect to the recommendations of the Commission. While the NHRC applauds your efforts in taking steps to handle the situation, please accept the highest assurances of our consideration.