Cough syrup made in India may be linked to 66 deaths in Gambia: WHO

Dozens of children dying in The Gambia from kidney damage can be linked to contaminated cough and cold syrups made by an Indian drug manufacturer, the World Health Organisation said on Wednesday.

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WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists that the UN agency was carrying out an investigation with Indian regulators and the drugmaker, Maiden Pharmaceuticals Ltd.

Maiden Pharma refused to comment on the alert, while Reuters’ calls and messages to the Drug Controller General of India were not answered. Nor did Gambia and India’s ministry of health respond immediately to a request for comments.

The WHO also issued a medical product alert calling on regulators to recall Maiden Pharma products from the marketplace.

The products may have been distributed elsewhere through informal markets, but had so far only been identified in The Gambia, according to the WHO alert.

The alert includes four products: Promethazine Oral Solution, Kofexmalin Baby Cough Syrup, Makoff Baby Cough Syrup, and Magrip N Cold Syrup.

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Laboratory analysis confirmed “unacceptable” quantities of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol, which may be toxic when consumed, the WHO said.

The Gambian government declared last month that it was also investigating the deaths. A spike in cases of acute renal injury in children less than five years of age was detected at the end of July.

Doctors in the Gambia sounded the alarm in July after several children began to get sick with kidney problems three to five days after taking the local paracetamol syrup. In August, 28 people had died, but health officials said the toll would probably increase. Now 66 are dead, says the World Health Organization on Wednesday.

These deaths have shaken the tiny West African country that is already grappling with multiple health emergencies, including measles and malaria.

Maiden Pharmaceuticals manufactures drugs at its facilities in India, which it then sells domestically and exports to Asian, African, and Latin American countries, according to its website.

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