Killing corruption

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With Aisha Jallow

Sixty-nine small Gambian children have died so far because of toxic coughing syrup. 69 children! Maiden Pharmaceuticals in India is, together with our corrupt regime in The Gambia responsible for the suffering of these children and their families. The babies didn’t die instantly, no, they suffered before death finally came as a relief. Imagine the panic and the resignation the parents of these babies felt when they could do nothing to release the pain for their children. The parents had done all they could, they had bought medication in a pharmacy and you are supposed to be able to trust their products, am I right? Never could anyone believe that what they bought at a place you must be able to consider as trustworthy could cause the demise of more than 66 Gambian children.

Heads are rolling at the moment, in India. The company responsible for producing the toxic cough syrup is punished by the Indian authorities. The members of the board have been suspended and the company, Maiden pharmaceuticals, is closed and will be investigated. All that is good, of course, even if it is too late for all the mourning families in The Gambia. The production of the pharmaceutical companies in India should be kept under control, but the problem is that even controllers can be bought. The pharmaceutical industry in India is booming and there is a lot of money to earn. More money even if someone is willing to cut the corners. Skip the rules or bend them a little, add some ingridients that you know are more or less toxic and hope for the best. If the medication is sent for some poor people far away in Africa, it doesn’t matter. There are so many Africans anyway, so who cares?

Sounds cynical, doesn’t it, but the problem is that the ingridients in many of the medication produced in India are not always the same if they are exported to the EU as to Africa. In the EU we have a strict control over the medications we are importing, but in Africa? Well, you know how it is! If some corners can be cut, then why go all the way around and spoil time with unnecessary controls? Some money under the table and you look the other way.

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The cough syrups manufactured by Maiden pharmaceuticals in India were exported to The Gambia and no other country. Why was that? How come that the company didn’t make the same medication and exported it to other countries, even in Africa? This is highly unusual as producing medication is a matter of high costs so the companies need to spread their products to many customers, not only one and especially not a small and poor country as The Gambia. The suspicions grow larger the more I think of it, and even if I don’t want to allow my thoughts to go in a certain direction, they still are sniffing something rotten.

What if there is an agreement made between Maiden pharmaceuticals and some representatives of the Gambian government? What if someone else, high and mighty, had an offer he or she couldn’t resist and didn’t think anything of it, only that this could be an opportunity to make a lot of money? Even if The Gambia is a mess, there are some rules and regulations that must be followed when it comes to importing medication. Because The Gambia is a mess we know that rules can be bent if you are willing to pay the right amount to the right person. You know this saying: ”If something sounds too good to be true, it often is.” The offer that was made between someone at Maiden Pharmaceuticals and someone in The Gambia was a very good offer for the one who filled his or her pockets with the bribes. These persons didn’t consider the consequences of their agreement for a second.

It was doctors at the pediatric units who tried to treat the suffering babies and it was these doctors who saw the correlation between the paracetamol and the kidney failure. They called for a stoppage of the usage and for a scientific intervention with well equipped laboratories in Senegal, Ghana and Switzerland. The WHO, World Health Organization, raised the matter and called it a global threat. This is not the first time pharmaceutical companies have been using people in developing countries as guinea pigs. All the major pharmaceutical companies are using double standards. They don’t apply the same level of precautions and rules as in their own countries. They are testing vaccines and medications on poor people who are forced to trust what they get or buy is tested and considered safe to use.

This time it happened to be an Indian company that caused the tragedy in The Gambia, but this is unfortunately not uncommon. I heard of a case in Argentina, South America, where 14 babies died because of a new vaccine. The poor mothers were convinced to use a new vaccine on their babies. One of the mothers first tried to refuse and went home from the hospital with her 3 month old son. Some staff from the hospital then came to her home and put so much pressure on her that she finally gave in. The staff even drove her back to the hospital, injected the baby and drove her back. After some days the baby was dead.

This was 5 years ago and none of the grieving families of the 14 babies has had justice. The legal process keeps on being delayed and I suppose one of the reasons for this delay is that the company responsible for the death of these babies are hoping that the parents will give up. The parents were given each a pack of documents to sign. They were supposed to read 18-20 documents, written in an academic way and sign their agreement. We are speaking about poor and illiterate people who can hardly spell their own names. This is the cynicism these multinational companies are using.

When President Barrow heard about the tragedy with the loss of so many innocent lives, he held a speech which unfortunately was in his ordinary unprofessional manner. It doesn’t matter if someone is writing the speeches for the president, he could have reacted and ordered to change some of the expressions. To say that according to data, the death of more than 66 babies in a short time is not unusual considering Gambian circumstances is cruel and clumsy. It would be like telling the president himself that the sad incident with his young son and the dog was something that could be expected when children play with a dog.

Holding a speech to grieving people requires empathy and consideration.

The words must be weighed and chosen with great care. It is clear that neither the president of The Gambia nor his speech writer owns these skills. President Barrow should have visited the grieving families and promised that no stone will remain unturned in the authorities’ search for the truth. He should have promised that the families will be compensated. There is so much President Barrow should do, so where to begin? He doesn’t seem to know. Perhaps he is also waiting for the poor families to give up their search for justice.