Health Minister blames “greedy and unscrupulous” people for AKI outbreak

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By Omar Bah

The Minister of Health has blamed the recent deaths of 70 children due to Acute Kidney Injury caused by medicines manufactured in India on “greedy and unscrupulous people”.

Addressing the National Assembly extra-ordinary session on the matter yesterday, Minister Ahmadou Lamin Samateh said: “I believe that our country has been assaulted – This is an aggression against our people from greedy and unscrupulous people. The manufacturing, distribution and importation of contaminated drugs is criminal and the government sees it that way. However, due diligence needs to be carried out to get to the root of the problem.”

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He said the license of the importer has been suspended and the two pharmacy outlets of the importer have been closed.

Minister Samateh said the government has embarked upon health facility expansion and provision of more laboratories, equipment and massive capacity building exercises. “This is yielding results with very significant reductions in maternal mortality from 433 per 100, 000 birth in 2013 to 289 per 100, 000 birth in 2019-2022, to further reduction to 178 per 100, 000 live births this year. A reduction of under 5 mortalities from 54 per 1000 to 49 per 1000 in 2020. It therefore came as a big blow to have lost 70 children under the age of seven to Acute Kidney Injury in four months. He said a total of 82 AKI were diagnosed and 12 of them recovered.

“This has been very difficult for the families, the president and the entire cabinet and government and by extension the Assembly,” he said.

A surgeon himself, Dr Samateh said the issue of substandard medicine is a big global problem and a multibillion entity in which some selfish individuals strive to the detriment or suffering of other people. “We got information that the Food and Drugs Control Service of America from 2000 to now have withdrawn up to 1200 dangerous medications from the American market. It is a big challenge for the entire world especially for the poor developing countries like ours where all drugs will have to be imported and we have both limited human and material resources to detect the problems,” he said. 

He said upon the announcement of Acute Kidney Injury in The Gambia, alert around the world was increased and it has led to discovery of similar phenomenon in Indonesia with a mortality of 208.

“Distinguish Speaker and Honourable members, Indonesia is considered to be a middle-income country with facilities to detect Acute Kidney Injury and substandard medication, so the fact that they had to take a cue from us, and even consulted our team to share our experience in dealing with the crisis, means the team in the Gambia has put in our best,” he said. He added that a similar incident occurred in Haiti where 108 children passed away. “This is not by any means trying to justify what happened in our country. It is just to delineate on the challenges developing countries face, it is important to note that the identification of the problem and action that the government took to stop the problem are remarkable by international standards and it has potentially saved many other lives,” he said.

While announcing that the World Bank has agreed to construct a food and drugs testing laboratory for the Gambia, Samateh said the ministry has not reported any case of the AKI for the past two weeks.

The mover of the motion and NAM for Brikama North, Alhagie S Darboe said the idea behind the extraordinary session is motivated by the need for the Assembly to debate on an issue of national concern.

“I have to make clear that this is not a motion to politicise the situation of the AKI. It is only correct that the Assembly find time to discuss the lapses and weaknesses that led to the importation of these medicines. It is in this spirit that this session was called,” he said.

He commended all the MPs who played a role in ensuring that the session was called yesterday.

“If you look at the pattern of the debate all the members have extended their condolences to the families who lost their children but ironically some of them are praising certain authorities,” he said.

Honourable Darboe said a parliamentary inquiry should be constituted to ensure that somebody is held accountable for what happened. “This should not be buried under the carpet,” he said.

“I take note of a comment of a member who said we should not have a preconceived mind before the findings of the investigation but it is my view that we must not also praise anybody for doing a job he/she is paid to do,” he stated.