After 12 years after the diethylene glycol massive poisoning case, the most severe in the world, the victims still cry for justice. Panama Today spoke with Holanda Hernández, who along with three of her relatives is part of the list of people who were intoxicated by the drug that was distributed by the Social Security Fund (CSS) in a large part of the Panamanian geography.
Hernández said she survived miraculously although she lost her gallbladder, "the effects on me were immediate. I showed symptoms of the poisoning in 2006 because the expectorant without sugar that was prescribed to me was concentrated. It produced an effect once in my body. Doctors omitted the information and that is why I am suing. In 2006 they couldn’t tell me that I was a victim of massive poisoning but they waited two years to notify me."
In 2003 the company Medicom S.A. imported glycerin to meet an order from the Social Security Fund. The product was exported from China to Spain and then shipped to Panama. In 2006, it was determined that the product was not suitable for human consumption and also contained diethylene glycol. The compound was used in a mixture for an expectorant without sugar.
"Only 100 people were called in 2007 to recognize them as victims of massive poisoning. Tests and prescriptions were omitted. Investigations were corrupted," said Hernández.
"Aproximately 3,272 people were recognized by the Attorney General's Office. The Social Security Fund and Ministry of Health are still discreet," according to the victim. Since 2009, a Special Unit of the Prosecutor's Office handled the cases, but since September 2017 it has been transferred to the Metropolitan Discharge Office.
Former-director of the Social Security Fund René Luciani is one of the detainees in this case, serving an 18-month sentence. A few days after the statute of limitation of the case, the victims also filed a lawsuit against the State for damages. "The case is about to be time-barred on April 11. It should not be time-barred because there are a lot of people who are under study or not certified. If they lack a status to sue they cannot sue. Furthermore, due to the number of affected patients, this is considered a crime against humanity. We are trying to elevate this to a crime against humanity. We have to exhaust all instances within Panama," said Holanda Hernández.
She said that they have not duly assisted by governmental entities. "There is a lot of deception through different governments. There was only some recognition from the previous Government. This Government has denied any form of dialogue; the population has been deceived with the fact that with a job they will solve our problems, that they will give us the medicines. We were requested not to sue, because we will be given a thousand dollars," said the woman who is one of the victims of mass poisoning.
More than 200 thousand syrup units were distributed throughout the Panamanian territory but there are doubts about the real number of people affected. Official figures estimate in 1200 the number of people victims of the "death syrup". That amount is what today receives a life pension. The activists who defend the rights of the victims consider that the number is much higher, both of people who still live and of people who died as a result of mass poisoning.