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Rash of child deaths in The Gambia linked to Indian-made cough syrup – WHO

Rash of child deaths in The Gambia linked to Indian-made cough syrup - WHO
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Oct 5 (Reuters) – The deaths of dozens of young children in The Gambia from acute kidney injuries could be linked to contaminated cough and cold syrups from an Indian drugmaker, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.

The results, announced by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, came after testing several medicinal syrups suspected of causing the virus 66 child deaths in the tiny West African country.

Tedros told reporters that the UN agency is launching an investigation with Indian regulators and the company that makes the syrups, Maiden Pharmaceuticals Ltd. based in New Delhi.

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Maiden Pharma declined to comment, while calls and messages to the Drugs Controller General of India went unanswered. India’s Health Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

The WHO issued a medical products alert on Wednesday, urging regulators to withdraw Maiden Pharma goods from the market.

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

The warning affects four products: Promethazine oral solution, Kofexmalin Baby Cough Syrup, Makoff Baby Cough Syrup and Magrip N Cold Syrup.

Laboratory analyzes confirmed “unacceptable” levels of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol, which can be toxic and lead to acute kidney damage, according to the WHO.

Doctors in The Gambia sounded the alarm in July after dozens of children fell ill with kidney problems. The deaths puzzled medical professionals before a pattern emerged: Dozens of patients under the age of five fell ill three to five days after ingesting a locally sold acetaminophen syrup.

Gambia’s director of health services, Mustapha Bittaye, said similar problems had been identified with other syrups, but the ministry was awaiting confirmation of the results.

He said the number of deaths has been falling in recent weeks and the sale of Maiden Pharmaceuticals products has been banned. However, some of the syrups were still being sold in private clinics and hospitals until recently, he said.

The Gambia’s Medicines Control Agency on Tuesday sent a letter to healthcare professionals urging them to stop selling WHO-listed products.

Maiden Pharmaceuticals makes drugs at its facilities in India, which it then sells domestically and exports to countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, according to its website.

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Reporting by Leroy Leo and Raghav Mahobe in Bengaluru, Jennifer Rigby in London and Edward McAllister Editing by Anil D’Silva, William Maclean and Matthew Lewis

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