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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 138
October 3, 2009

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Children's right to health and role of drug administration

Oli Md. Abdullah Chowdhury

THERE had been reported deaths of 27 children in the newspapers as they died of having paracetamol syrup prepared by Rid Pharma. Although the government had taken punitive measures against the pharmaceutical company, there had been a gap in overall coordination. Drug administration had neither been able to withdraw the syrup wholly, nor inform all concerned regarding the intoxication caused by this particular syrup. Lack of awareness had resulted in further damage as some para-professionals continued to prescribe the drug.

As a result, another child, namely Eva (4) was prescribed the syrup by a village doctor even after the government sealed off the factory of Rid Pharma. After having the syrup, her kidney stopped functioning and essentially she died. Doctors in the hospitals made every attempt to make her kidney operational through dialysis. However, dialysis did not work in her case and the child died in the hospital.

Ensuring health services:
State responsibility

Our constitution, nevertheless, lays the responsibility with the state to ensure appropriate health care for citizens. It has been stated in Article 15, “It shall be a fundamental responsibility of the State to attain, through planned economic growth, a constant increase of productive forces and a steady improvement in the material and cultural standard of living of the people, with a view to securing to its citizens the provision of the basic necessities of life, including food, clothing, shelter, education and medical care”.

Bangladesh has signed core international human rights treaties and is accountable for the respect for, protection of and realization of the rights of individuals in the country. Bangladesh is one of those countries who signed UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) at the very outset. Bangladesh has also been a member of the CRC committee for a considerable period. It has been stated in Article 24(1) of the Convention, “States Parties recognise the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health. States Parties shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such health care services”.

There are countries like Bangladesh where traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children exist. Specific guidance has been provided in the later part as it said in Article 24 ()“States Parties shall take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children”.

Domestic law
There is hardly a piece of comprehensive law in the country addressing health rights. If there is a clear evidence of negligence, there are remedies available in the Penal Code. “Whoever causes grievous hurt to any person by doing any act so rashly or negligently as to endanger human life or the personal safety of others shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine which may extend to five thousand taka, or with both”, said in Section 338 of the Bangladesh Penal Code.

Moreover, there are specific provisions related to drug in the newly enacted Consumer Rights Protection Act (CRPA). There has been a provision of 3 years of imprisonment and/or fine of Tk. 300,000 for selling illegal drugs as mentioned in Section 41 of the CRPA.

Role of drug administration:

Drug administration has played a controversial role in dealing with the situation. While Health Minister accused Rid Pharma for the death of children, Director of Drug Administration explained it differently as reported in the Prothom Alo on August 27, 2009. The director allegedly did not find any link between the death and contaminated drug. The contradictory remark made by the director surprised concerned citizens.

There had been an apparent lack of coordination between different wings of health ministry while dealing with the situation arisen from drug controversy. If there had been a combined effort from the beginning, a number of children could have survived. A mechanism must be developed to combat similar situation in the future. At the same time, violators of the health rights must be brought to book.

Oli Md. Abdullah Chowdhury is a human rights worker.


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