Gambia police link child deaths to cough syrup delivered by U.S. firm

A photograph shows collected cough syrups in Banjul on October 06, 2022. - Indian authorities are investigating cough syrups made by a local pharmaceutical company after the World Health Organisation said they could be responsible for the deaths of 66 children in The Gambia. (Photo by MILAN BERCKMANS / AFP)

A preliminary report from the Gambian Police indicates that the deaths of 69 children from acute kidney injury in the Gambia are linked to four cough syrups made in India and exported to the West African country by a U.S.-based pharmaceutical company.

A photograph shows collected cough syrups in Banjul on October 06, 2022./AFP

The UN health agency World Health Organization (WHO) investigators had already found “unacceptable” levels of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol, which can be toxic, in four products made by New Delhi-based Maiden Pharmaceuticals Ltd.

The police report did not name Maiden directly but listed the company’s same four products that were mentioned by the WHO: Promethazine Oral Solution, Kofexmalin Baby Cough Syrup, Makoff Baby Cough Syrup and Magrip N Cold Syrup.

Atlanta-based Atlantic Pharmaceuticals Company Ltd, which has permission to export medicines into the Gambia, ordered a combined total of 50,000 bottles of those syrups, according to the police report.

“It is established that from the aforesaid sum of 50,000 bottles of contaminated baby syrups, 41,462 bottles have been quarantined/seized… and 8,538 bottles remained unaccounted for,” the statement said, adding that investigations were ongoing.

Atlantic Pharmaceuticals could not be reached for comment.

Gambian authorities launched an investigation in September after doctors in July noticed that a number of children developed symptoms of kidney failure after taking a locally-sold paracetamol syrup used to treat fevers.

“We are all victims of the malpractice from manufacturers. As a country, we don’t have all the resources and the personnel. We don’t have a drug testing laboratory,” Health Minister Ahmad Lamin Samateh said last week.

International partners will help the country tighten medicine monitoring systems and import regulations, he added, noting that the government was taking action against manufacturers in India.