India tells Gambia cough syrup deaths will be investigated

The WHO suspects the medicines were contaminated with diethylene glycol or ethylene glycol, leading to the deaths of 66 children

India's Foreign Minister Subramanyam Jaishankar conveyed his condolences to Gambia.  (EPA)
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India’s Foreign Minister Subramanyam Jaishankar conveyed his condolences after 66 children died in Gambia after reportedly consuming India-made cough medication.

Mr Jaishankar told Gambian Foreign Minister Dr Mamadou Tangara that an investigation would take place during a phone call late on Thursday.

“Underlined that matter is being seriously investigated by appropriate authorities. We agreed to remain in touch,” Mr Jaishankar tweeted.

The World Health Organisation last week issued an alert over four cough and cold syrups made by Maiden Pharmaceuticals, a drug maker in northern Haryana state, after at least 66 children, half of them aged five months to four years, died of acute renal failure in the West African nation.

The Gambian health ministry launched an investigation in July, suspecting the deaths were linked to syrup paracetamol manufactured by Maiden Pharmaceuticals.

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

The global health body suspects 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.

India set up a panel to investigate the matter on Wednesday.

The drug company has also been barred from carrying out any production activities after local authorities found irregularities and breaches of good manufacturing practices at the plant in a separate investigation.

Mariama Kuyateh, 30, holds up a picture of her son Musa who died of acute kidney failure in Banjul on October 10. AFP

The Indian Health Ministry had said the syrups had been approved for export only to Gambia, although the WHO said the supply of the products through informal or unregulated markets to other countries in Africa “cannot be ruled out”.

India’s pharmaceutical industry is the world's third largest in terms of volume and is worth $42 billion. Africa is one of the top five destinations for the country's pharmaceutical exports.

Updated: October 14, 2022, 5:03 AM