Gambia deaths: WHO stands by medical product alert on cough syrups


The World Health Organization has said that it stands by its action with regard to an international medical product alert issued on four cough and cold syrups from India and their potential link to over 60 deaths of children in Gambia.

In a statement to businessline, the UN health agency said, “WHO’s mandate is to issue global alerts about potential risks. WHO stands by the action taken.”

The WHO’s response comes even as the Indian government said in Parliament, that the control samples taken from Maiden Pharmaceuticals (who exported the cough syrups to Gambia), were in fact of “standard quality.”

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“The said samples were also found negative for both Diethylene Glycol (DEG) and Ethylene Glycol (EG),” said Bhagwanth Khuba, Minister of State in the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, in a written response to the Rajya Sabha. Additionally, a strongly worded letter to the WHO, from the Drugs Controller General of India, Dr VG Somani, said, the UN agency may have made a “premature deduction” on the cause of deaths. The letter pointed to reports from Gambia indicating that there had been no direct causal relation established yet between the deaths and consumption of the syrup.

Tested in Ghana, Switzerland

The WHO, however, said in its statement, “When many children die of a mysterious sickness, it’s a tragedy that means WHO had to act quickly. WHO-contracted laboratories in Ghana and Switzerland tested the suspected cough syrups products from The Gambia and confirmed excess levels of ethyleneglycol and diethyleneglycol. These contaminated syrups are dangerous and should not be in any medicine, ever. WHO immediately shared the confirmatory results with authorities in The Gambia, and India, as well as the manufacturer of the suspected products-Maiden Pharmaceuticals.”

In October, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had said the agency had issued a medical product alert on four “contaminated” cough and cold syrups in Gambia, potentially linked with acute kidney injuries and 66 deaths among children.

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