By Fatou Dahaba
The Government of The Gambia has said they are taking legal action against an Indian pharmaceutical company that imported contaminated syrups to the country that caused the tragic deaths of over 70 Gambian children through AKI.
Responding to the recommendations of a newly released Presidential task force report on the death of over 70 children, the Government says they have also dismissed the Executive Director of the medicine control agency and her deputy for their negligence and failure to prevent the deaths.
The announcement was made at a press briefing held in Banjul by the Minister of Health, Dr. Ahmad Lamin Samateh, on Friday, 21st July 2023.
According to Dr. Samateh, the investigation report recommended that the Government of the Gambia dismiss the Executive Director and Deputy Executive Director of the Medicine Control Agency immediately and consider prosecuting them in line with the relevant laws for the abdication of their official duties.
“Considering the foregoing, to strengthen the MCA and restore public confidence in the institution, the Executive Director of MCA has been dismissed with immediate effect, and also the contract of the Deputy Executive Director is terminated immediately. The report will also be forthwith transmitted to the Gambia Police Force for further action”, he said during a press briefing.
The Government, through the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is to explore the possibility of instituting further legal action against Atlantic Pharmaceuticals and Maiden Pharmaceuticals, the company that imported affected paracetamol syrups that were believed to have caused the death of children in the country.
“The Government should engage with the Government of India to seek criminal and civil redress on behalf of families of victims of AKI outbreak. And the Government responded that they are exploring avenues for legal action against Atlantic Pharmaceuticals and Maiden Pharmaceuticals, as well as Potential redress through engagement with the Government of India. The Government is benefiting from legal advice from a top-tier international Law firm,” Minister Samateh informed the press.
In addition to possible legal action against the Indian pharmaceutical company and the dismissed Executive Director of the MCA, the report asked the Government to permanently revoke the importation license issued to Atlantic Pharmacy Company Limited and its Director.
The task force investigation report also advised the Government of The Gambia, through the Ministry of Health, to review the laws and regulations surrounding granting importation licenses and instill stringent conditions to ensure that importers are approved based on their qualifications operating with a sense of accountability and responsibility rather than being principally driven by profit.
The report also urged the Government of the Gambia to ensure MOH urgently facilitates the establishment of a fully operational National Medicines Quality.
However, the Government responded that Some of these recommendations are in progress, such as the matter of Sait Kebbeh, which will be immediately referred to the Pharmacy Council for appropriate disciplinary action, and the license of Atlantic Pharmacy Company Limited has been permanently revoked.
They also responded that the Ministry of Health had retained an experienced firm currently reviewing all the health-related Legislation in The Gambia. This will be carried out as part of this ongoing review of the acts under the MOH.
The presidential task force was established to inquire into the death of children due to the consumption of contaminated medicine imported into the country from India suspected of causing Acute Kidney Injury.
The task force interviewed and held discussions with all key relevant stakeholders, including but not limited to the Ministry of Health (MoH), Medicines Control Agency (MCA), Pharmacy Council, National Pharmaceutical Services, Atlantic Pharmaceuticals, and experts at the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital.
Over 70 children died from Acute Kidney Injury in the Gambia after taking the contaminated syrup from the maiden pharmacy in India.
Following the Press Briefing, copies of the entire report were released. In addition, they also released copies of the Causality Assessment Report and the Epidemiological Survey Report, both of which were worked on by The World Health Organization and The Ministry of Health.