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WHO: Indian cough syrups may be linked to 66 deaths in Gambia

The deaths of dozens of children in The Gambia from kidney injuries may be linked to contaminated cough and cold syrups made by an Indian drug maker, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters that the UN agency is leading the investigation along with Indian regulators and drugmaker Maiden Pharmaceuticals Ltd.

Maiden Pharma declined to comment on the alert, while calls and messages to India’s drug controller general went unanswered. The Gambia and India’s health ministry also did not respond on to it.  The World Health Organization (WHO) also issued a health product alert, asking regulators to withdraw Maiden Pharma’s 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 alert covers four products – Promethazine Oral Solution, Kofexmaline Children’s Cough Syrup, Makoff Children’s Cough Syrup and Magrip N Cold Syrup.

Laboratory analysis confirmed “unacceptable” amounts of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol, which can be toxic if consumed, the WHO said. The Gambian government said last month that it was also investigating the deaths, as an increase in cases of acute kidney injury in children under the age of five was detected in late July.

Doctors in The Gambia raised the alarm in July after several children developed kidney problems three to five days after consuming locally sold paracetamol syrup. By August, 28 had died, but health authorities said the number was likely to rise. The death toll now stands at 66, the WHO said on Wednesday.

The deaths have shaken the small West African nation, which is already grappling with multiple health crises including measles and malaria. Maiden Pharmaceuticals manufactures the drugs at its plants in India, which it then sells domestically and also exports to countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, it says on its website.

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