The amount of disinformation being circulated across social media in Barbados and across the globe is frightening.
Some of that questionable information is as a result of people being too hasty to press the share button. In some cases, people have only taken the time to read the headlines and not the details and so are not in command of the full information before they put it on blast.
It is a feature of life in the 21st century where you share first and ask questions later. This is unlikely to improve despite the best efforts of the Barbados Broadcasting Authority (BBA) with its well-intended nightly public service announcements.
The fact remains that our suspicions about even the most legitimate facts from reputable sources are heightened due to the many conspiracy theories surrounding COVID-19, the vaccines, and the medical profession’s assessment of the dangers people faced during the global pandemic.
At a time when trust in the establishment and global bodies is low, one of the most significant developments occurred in several countries that seemed to go under the radar of major news networks and agencies.
Reuters reported earlier this month that children were dying in several poor countries after their parents administered medicines that were tainted.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) called for “immediate and concerted action to protect children from contaminated medicines after a spate of child deaths linked to cough syrups last year”.
The WHO was heavily criticised as people searched for scapegoats and explanations for COVID-19. It was even suggested the world body may have been involved in some form of cover-up with China to hide the origin of the deadly viral illness.
Shockingly, it was the WHO that revealed that more than 300 children, mostly under the age of five, had died of acute kidney injury in Indonesia, Gambia and Uzbekistan after being given contaminated over-the-counter cough syrups.
But the dangerous medicines were also linked to spates in Senegal, Cambodia, and the Philippines. The global body has also issued a call for action across its 194 member states.
However, very little has been heard of this danger. Countries like Barbados and others in the Caribbean source many of our pharmaceuticals from India. That country, along with Brazil represent some of the largest producers of generic medicines for various illnesses.
We may have missed it, but Barbadians have not been issued with any health bulletins, product alerts, or product recall notices. In fact, according to the Reuters report, the WHO sent specific product alerts since last October, asking for the removal from shelves of cough syrups made in India’s Maiden Pharmaceuticals and Marion Biotech, which are linked with deaths in Gambia and Uzbekistan respectively.
The WHO also issued a warning last year for cough syrups made by four Indonesian manufacturers to be recalled.
What is more important, WHO had such a lack of confidence in these pharmaceutical companies to act ethically to source only high quality raw materials, that it asked manufacturers to “only buy raw ingredients from qualified suppliers, to test their products more thoroughly, and keep records of the process”.
The directive from the WHO suggests to us that every box of “medicine” on the shelves of shops and supermarkets may not be meant to cure you but are simple money-making schemes pushing out fake products or poorly formulated medicines using questionable base materials.
According to the WHO, “Suppliers and distributors should check for signs of falsification and only distribute or sell medicines authorised for use.”
This is an age in which it is difficult to discern what is real and what is counterfeit, whether it is news, or medicine. Why? The producers of both products seek to cloak what they are peddling, in the veil of authenticity.
In fact, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies revealed it had uncovered counterfeit Pfizer medicines in 116 countries, and this was a pervasive and growing global threat to people everywhere.
As a result, it will be critical for Barbadian consumers and importers of medicines to ensure that there is aggressive oversight, not only on companies with which they do business, but the source and authenticity of the medical products.
The ongoing legal action in the United States by local businessman Mark Maloney seeking redress in the COVID vaccine scandal, is enough evidence to show Barbadians they must remain vigilant.