Geneva - The World Health Organisation must launch an urgent investigation into the deaths of at least 18 children at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen, who were given what appears to be an expired drug, Euro-Med Rights Monitor said in a statement.
The Ministry of Health and Population in Sanaa is controlled by the Houthi group “Ansar Allah”, and is unlikely to conduct a transparent and independent investigation and hold those responsible accountable for distributing expired methotrexate—a drug used to suppress immunity—to Sanaa hospitals, and injecting doses into dozens of cancer-stricken children in the Al Kuwait Hospital. Because of this, it is imperative that the World Health Organisation investigate the incident.
The investigation is especially critical given the allegations that the Sanaa Ministry of Health and Population initially received the medicine from the World Health Organisation and other donor organisations before it expired and was distributed to local hospitals.
At the same time that Yemeni medical and media agencies announced the deaths of the 18 children, approximately 30 other children who received the same dose suffered from complications, and are still being treated in intensive care units at several Sanaa hospitals. “These patients were given expired chemical doses that could have been smuggled or improperly stored”, said Muhammed al-Khawlani, a relative of Ismail al-Khawlani, 12, who died as a result of an expired dose.
“More than 17 children were fighting for their lives shortly after receiving the dose. The majority of them died, including my cousin Ismail Muhammad al-Khawlani, while other children are still suffering”, al-Khawlani added.
The Ministry of Health and Population announced on Thursday that at least 10 blood cancer patients died as a result of “bacterial contamination in medicine packages” that were “smuggled to a private pharmacy and did not pass the procedures of the Supreme Board of Drugs and Medical Appliances or the tenders of the National Oncology Centre”.
Even if the drug did not pass competent authorities before being used in hospitals, the incident clearly reflects a blatant disregard for Yemeni lives and demonstrates that the Ministry of Health and Population does not bear its responsibility as the body responsible for the health and safety of patients in Sanaa hospitals. In no way can hospitals justify administering medication that has not been previously and properly examined and verified.
Euro-Med Monitor expressed grave concern that more doses of expired medicine may still be available in Sanaa hospitals and health centres, which could result in a major disaster with hundreds of fatalities. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health must look into the incident and call for an international investigation into how many Yemenis actually benefit from free and timely medical aid provided by the World Health Organisation and other international organisations, and whether medication is being stored for long periods of time for Yemeni authorities to illegally benefit from.
Yemen has been embroiled in an armed conflict since March 2015, with Yemeni government forces backed by the Saudi-led Arab coalition on one side, and the Houthi group—which has controlled several governorates, including the country’s capital of Sanaa, since September 2014—on the other. Its humanitarian crisis has reached unprecedented levels of deterioration in recent years, owing to the continuation of fighting, which inevitably entails devastating consequences, and to the growing imminent danger of health disasters and famine which threaten the lives of millions, especially given the funding crisis faced by relief organisations operating in the state.