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UNICEF Doubts Drug It Distributed Caused Hospital Illness In India - 2001-11-14


The United Nations children's fund, UNICEF, has issued a preliminary response to charges that it distributed a drug that caused the death of one child and the hospitalization of hundreds of others in India. The agency says it doubts the vitamin A it distributed caused the illnesses, but it says it is awaiting the results of an investigation by the Indian government.

A two-year-old child died and about 600 other children were hospitalized in the Indian state of Assam, after receiving liquid doses of Vitamin A on Sunday. They were among more than three million young children who received the serum as part of a UNICEF-led program to protect them against blindness.

UNICEF spokeswoman Wivina Belmonte has said the agency has checked with the supplier of the serum in Assam and is confident it could not have been responsible for the illnesses.

"There is nothing from the independent quality control tests that we have done on the Vitamin A that suggests that it was contaminated. We got one and one half million bottles of Vitamin A. It was distributed throughout India. This is the one place where children fell sick. It is important for us to find out why these children fell ill, but where the vitamin A was used in other parts of the country, the children are fine," she said.

Ms. Belmonte says this was the third round of Vitamin A administered in Assam this year and there were no complications from the others. In the past year, she says a total of 35 million Indian children received doses to prevent blindness.

The head of Assam State Health services has suggested that the children may have received an overdose of Vitamin A, causing the death and illness. Ms. Belmonte has said this is nothing more than conjecture.

"If too much of a Vitamin A dose is given, it could give children cramps, that is true. But we still are not in a position to say that that is what happened. I think the most prudent thing is just to make sure that we know exactly what happened and to follow it up as need be," she said.

Ms. Belmonte says all the children who became ill came from the same two or three areas. She says all of them have been released from hospital and are doing well.