The World Health Organization stated on Wednesday that the deaths of scores of children in Gambia from kidney injury may have been caused by tainted cough and cold syrups manufactured by an Indian medicine company.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters that the UN agency, working with Indian regulators and the pharmaceutical, New Delhi-based Maiden Pharmaceuticals Ltd., was initiating an inquiry.
Maiden Pharma declined to comment on the alert, while calls and Reuters messages to the Drugs Controller General of India went unanswered. Gambia and India’s health ministry also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The WHO also issued a medical product alert asking regulators to remove Maiden Pharma goods from the market.
The products may have been distributed elsewhere through informal markets, but had so far only been identified in Gambia, the WHO said in its alert.
The alert covers four products – Promethazine Oral Solution, Kofexmalin Baby Cough Syrup, Makoff Baby Cough Syrup and Magrip N Cold Syrup.
Lab analysis confirmed “unacceptable” amounts of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol, which can be toxic when consumed, the WHO said. Gambia’s government said last month it has also been investigating the deaths, as a spike in cases of acute kidney injury among children under the age of five was detected in late July.
In July, medical personnel in Gambia issued an alert after many youngsters were ill with renal issues three to five days after swallowing a locally supplied paracetamol syrup. By August, 28 people had died, but health officials predicted the number would grow. According to WHO, 66 people had died as of Wednesday.
The fatalities have jolted the tiny West African country, which is already grappling with a number of health crises, including measles and malaria.
According to their website, Maiden Pharmaceuticals makes pharmaceuticals in India and distributes them both locally and to nations in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.