India halts production of cough syrup linked to deaths of Gambian children

The World health Organisation suspects the medicines are linked to the deaths of 66 children

India's health authorities say 'major irregularities' were found at a facility run by Maiden Pharmaceuticals. Reuters
Powered by automated translation

Indian authorities have ordered a drug manufacturer to halt the production of cough medications, weeks after the World Health Organisation linked the syrups to the deaths of 66 children in Gambia.

Anil Vij, health minister in India’s northern Haryana, said on Wednesday that major irregularities were found at the facility of Maiden Pharmaceuticals, which manufactured and exported at least four child cough and cold medications to the West African nation.

“Samples of the drugs mentioned by the WHO have been sent to a drug lab and we will take action accordingly, but we had done a joint inspection and we found 12 violations in manufacturing. We have decided to halt total production,” Mr Vij said.

The global health body last week issued an alert over the four cough and cold syrups made by the drug company.

It said they could be linked to acute kidney injuries in Gambia after an investigation in the country.

The Gambian health ministry launched an investigation in July when children died. Advice on syrup paracetamol was issued on September 9, a month after investigators reported the death of at least 28 children aged five months to four years from acute renal failure.

An official from India’s Health Ministry last week told The National that it had launched an “urgent investigation” after the WHO complained to India’s drugs regulator.

Suspicions centred on claims that the medicines were contaminated with diethylene glycol or ethylene glycol — both used in the preparation of antifreeze, brake fluid, cigarettes, paints and some dyes, plastics, films and cosmetics.

While the Indian Health Ministry said the syrups had been approved for export only to Gambia, the WHO said that the drugs may have reached other countries through informal markets.

The incident is one of the worst involving the sector in India ― known as the “pharmacy of the world” in terms of volume ― which is worth $42 billion.

Africa is one of the top five destinations for the country's pharmaceutical exports.

Updated: October 12, 2022, 12:58 PM