Gambian Parents Seek Justice for Children Killed by Toxic Cough Syrup

BANJUL, The Gambia – The loss of a child is always excruciating for any parent, but for Ebrima Sagnia, the memories of his son Lamin playing around their home in The Gambia’s capital are especially painful. Lamin tragically passed away last September after developing severe symptoms from consuming substandard cough syrup imported from India, which was later found to contain high levels of toxic substances.

The incident highlighted the challenges faced by low-income countries like The Gambia in obtaining quality medication and implementing effective local quality controls. In response to the tragedy, Sagnia is now leading a coalition of 19 aggrieved parents who have taken their government and private entities involved in the production and distribution of the contaminated medicine to court. They are seeking justice and restitution for the deaths caused by what they believe to be negligence and breach of statutory duty. The lawsuit involves the Ministries of Health and Justice, the drug manufacturer and distributors, and the country’s Medicines Control Agency (MCA) as defendants.

The emotional court hearings, which began in July, have exposed the parents to additional anguish, with government representatives failing to appear at the second sitting in October and a forced adjournment at another hearing in November due to the absence of representatives from the manufacturer and distributor. The legal battle is a historic and brave stand in The Gambia, a country that has traditionally had little autonomy in its courts. The parents, many of whom are neither influential nor wealthy, are determined to seek accountability and regulatory changes to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

The incident has also shed light on the nation’s dependence on imported medicines, as The Gambia lacks local drug manufacturers and drug testing laboratories to verify imports. This reliance on external sources has been further complicated by the challenges in regulating the quality of imported medications, particularly from countries such as India, which is the world’s largest generic medicine maker and a major supplier of drugs to The Gambia.

The tragedy in The Gambia is not an isolated case, as mass poisonings due to contaminated medication have been recorded in several countries, leading to hundreds of child fatalities. The ordeal of the parents in seeking justice is compounded by the financial challenges many face, with the average salary in The Gambia being only $68 a month and legal fees costing about $250 an hour. Despite these obstacles, the parents remain resolute in their pursuit of accountability and change to prevent future tragedies.