The Health Services director also reaffirmed the ministry’s commitment to the welfare of Gambians, saying: “There is no need to panic as doctors have already had diagnosis of the diseases.”
The death of the children was reported to the Epidemiology and Disease Control (EDC) unit of the Ministry of Health. However, it was reported to be detected by the hospital management on 29 March 2023.
Explaining the preliminary report about the cause of the death of the 17 children, Dr Bittaye said: “Three children died as a result of sepsis secondary to meningitis; three children died as a result of respiratory distress secondary severe pneumonia; two other children died as a result of meningitis, aspiration pneumonia plus dehydration; three children died as a result of sepsis secondary hypovolemic shock; two other children died as a result of sepsis, encephalitis and AKI; one died as a result of severe anaemia secondary severe bronchitis; three died as a result of sepsis Q Epilepsy and another one child died as a result of severe sepsis pneumonia.”
He said further: “We can confirm that there are deaths of children at the Kanifing General Hospital. However, the most important thing at the moment is that the ministry is moving forward. We don’t wait for things to happen or wait until it happens and we start looking into it. So, all these deaths that happened have diagnoses. The doctors have already had a preliminary diagnosis and they are tirelessly working on that, and it’s a different disease. Some diseases are sepsis among others.”
Dr Bittaye again clarified: “When the doctors do the analysis, they think that it’s going to be high because there is too much mortality. So, we are just doing an audit to see what the deaths are and whether they are related or not. We are currently doing a preliminary investigation. So, it’s not like an outbreak that we confirm or anything.
“The death of the children could be viral meningitis bacteria and among others. Therefore, we need to know the causes of the death of the children.”
Quizzed on whether the death of the children has to do with the drugs they have been taking, the doctor elucidated: “We don’t suspect the death of the children has to do with drugs. However, now we are testing our drugs frequently. We are also checking the drugs the children have taken and whether the drugs have any problem or not. But all these children come with symptoms. Again, we will check the drugs they are using and if we find any drugs that fail, we usually address them.
“The ministry is trying to investigate it with the objective of finding out whether there are any other things on it or whether it is just a routine case we have. Again, we have also notified our people across the country. But this could also be viral bacteria. We therefore want to audit what is causing the death of children in The Gambia.
“It’s very unlikely that the 17 children died as a result of the medications they are using at home. However, as I told you, we are testing the drugs they were using. We have been testing many drugs in the country and the ones that were not fit have been removed. Now before you bring in drugs in the country, they are thoroughly tested whether they are drugs ordered by the central government or the private pharmacies.”
The government, he said, with the help of the World Bank, is currently building a testing laboratory in the country, adding that such a lab would go a long way in ensuring that drugs consumed in the country are up to standard as “testing drugs outside the country is expensive”.
He allayed public concern regarding the situation: “We are trying to see the root cause. If there is anything, we will take it from there but if there is nothing then we will control it. Because of what happened in the past, the ministry is rapidly moving forward. We don’t wait for things to happen and we take action. But even if we see many people dying as a result of malaria we check it and raise the alarm. Because of the bad experience we have had with AKI, the ministry and its staff are working vigorously to protect Gambians from all kinds of diseases.”