Mothers demand justice over cough syrup scandal

A red toy motorbike sits in the corner of Mariam Kuyateh’s home gathering dust.

It was meant for her 20-month-old son, Musa, but he passed away in September.

He is one of the 66 children in The Gambia who are thought to have died after being given a cough syrup that had been “potentially linked with acute kidney injuries”, according to the World Health Organization.

No-one in the family touches Musa’s toy – a reminder of what has been lost.

His 30-year-old mother, who has four other children, was in tears remembering what had happened to her son.

Sitting in her home in a suburb of The Gambia’s largest city, Serrekunda, she explained that his sickness started as a flu. After he was seen by a doctor, her husband bought a syrup to treat the problem.

“When we gave him the syrup, the flu stopped, but it led to another problem,” Ms Kuyateh said.

“My son was not passing urine.”

She returned to the hospital and Musa was sent for a blood test, which ruled out malaria. He was given another treatment, which did not work, and then a catheter was fitted, but he did not pass urine.

Finally, the small child was operated on. There was no improvement.

“He couldn’t make it, he died.”

Earlier this week, the WHO issued a global alert over four cough syrups in connection with the deaths in The Gambia.

The products – Promethazine Oral Solution, Kofexmalin Baby Cough Syrup, Makoff Baby Cough Syrup and Magrip N Cold Syrup – were manufactured by an Indian company, Maiden Pharmaceuticals, which had failed to provide guarantees about their safety, the WHO said.

The Indian government is investigating the situation. The firm has not responded to a BBC request for comment.

There is a lot of anger in The Gambia over what has happened.

There are growing calls for the resignation of Health Minister Dr Ahmadou Lamin Samateh, along with the prosecution of the importers of the drugs into the country.

“Sixty-six is a huge number. So we need justice, because the victims were innocent children,” Ms Kuyateh said.


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