The Gambia has launched a door-to-door campaign to collect cough and cold syrups in the small West African country responsible for the deaths of more than 60 children from kidney injury, reports said on Thursday.
India is testing samples of cough syrups produced by Maiden Pharmaceuticals, a government official said earlier in the day after the World Health Organization said its products were linked to the deaths of dozens of children in The Gambia.
The death of 66 children in the West African country is a blow to India’s image as the “pharmacy of the world” that supplies medicines to all continents, especially Africa. The cough syrup was made by New Delhi-based Maiden Pharmaceuticals, WHO said.
“The samples have been sent to the central pharmaceutical laboratory for testing,” Haryana state health minister Anil Vij told reporters. “Strict action will be taken if anything is found wrong.”
The Union health ministry will take all “necessary steps” in the matter, two officials said, adding that the government was awaiting a report from the WHO establishing a “causal link of death with the medical products in question”.
The girl’s director Naresh Kumar Goel told news agency Reuters that she heard about the deaths only on Thursday morning and was trying to ascertain the details.
“We are trying to ascertain the situation as it came to light today,” he said over the phone. “We are trying to find out with the buyer what exactly happened. We are not selling anything in India.”
He declined to speak further.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters on Wednesday that the UN agency is investigating the deaths from serious kidney injuries with India’s drug regulator and drug maker.
Two sources in India’s health ministry said the agency notified India’s Drugs Controller General late last month, following which the regulator, in conjunction with the WHO, launched an investigation with state officials.
The ministry has not issued any statement.
The WHO said laboratory analysis of Maiden cough syrup had confirmed “unacceptable” amounts of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol, which can be toxic and cause acute kidney injury.
Indian ministry sources said Maiden, which started its operations in November 1990, only manufactured and exported the syrup to The Gambia. Maiden says it has two manufacturing plants on its website, in Kundli and Panipat, both near New Delhi in Haryana, and has recently set up another.
It has an annual production capacity of 2.2 million syrup bottles, 600 million capsules, 18 million injections, 300,000 ointment tubes and 1.2 billion tablets.
Maiden said on its website that it sells its products at home and exports to countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, though Goyal said they are not currently selling in India.
Two health ministry sources said importing countries usually test such products before allowing them to be used.
WHO said Maiden products – promethazine oral solution, cofaxmalin baby cough syrup, Macoff baby cough syrup and Magrip N cold syrup – may have been distributed elsewhere through unofficial markets, but were identified only in The Gambia.
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