Cough Syrup Benylin
Contaminated batches of Benylin Cough Syrup are no longer available in Africa.

Indian Cough Syrups Caused 70 Infant Deaths in Gambia 

A government taskforce in The Gambia announced Friday that four cough syrups imported from India were responsible for the deaths of at least 70 children from kidney failure last year.

Health Minister Dr Ahmadou Lamin Samateh told a press conference that there were failings in regulatory and import checks of the medication, beginning with the products not being registered with the West African country’s Medical Control Agency (MCA).

The head of the MCA has been dismissed, he said, while also pointing blame at the supervising pharmacist who authorised the drugs’ import without sufficient background checks.

Beginning in September last year, The Gambia ordered a recall of several cough and cold medications, as well as all products manufactured by the Indian laboratory Maiden Pharmaceuticals from which the adulterated syrups originated, after the deaths of at least 70 infants.

It subsequently banned all products from the Indian firm.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), lab tests found “unacceptable amounts” of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol, which are commonly used as antifreeze and can be fatal when ingested.

The toxic impact from these substances includes “acute kidney injury which may lead to death,” the agency has said.

The Gambian task force noted the urgent need to set up a quality control laboratory to carry out tests on all drugs imported into the country, which the WHO is providing support to establish.

Samateh said it also recommended improvements to the country’s medical system including establishing a school of pharmacy and stricter regulations on drugs.

The Gambian government is also exploring its options to take legal action against the Indian manufacturer of the unsafe drugs in order to receive compensation for the victims, he said.

In the aftermath of the health scandal, India launched an investigation and shut down the Maiden Pharmaceuticals plant in October.

Early this year, the WHO announced a call for “immediate and coordinated action” to eradicate non-compliant and falsified medicines, in particular tainted cough syrups linked to the deaths of 300 children in Gambia, Indonesia and Uzbekistan.