The deaths of dozens of children in Gambia from kidney injuries may be linked to contaminated cough and cold syrups made by an Indian drug manufacturer, the World Health Organization said Wednesday.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters that the U.N. agency was investigating along with Indian regulators and the drugmaker, New Delhi-based Maiden Pharmaceuticals.
Maiden declined to comment on the alert, while calls and Reuters messages to the Drugs Controller General of India went unanswered. India's health ministry also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The WHO issued a medical product alert asking regulators to remove Maiden Pharmaceuticals goods from the market. The products may have been distributed elsewhere through informal markets but had so far only been identified in Gambia, the WHO said in its alert.
The alert covers four products: Promethazine Oral Solution, Kofexmalin Baby Cough Syrup, Makoff Baby Cough Syrup and Magrip N Cold Syrup.
Lab analysis confirmed unacceptable amounts of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol, which can be toxic when consumed, the WHO said. Gambia's government said last month that it had also been investigating the deaths, as a spike in cases of acute kidney injury among children younger than 5 was detected in late July.
Several children in Gambia began falling ill with kidney problems three to five days after taking a locally sold paracetamol syrup. By August, 28 had died, but health authorities said the toll would likely rise. Now 66 are dead, WHO said Wednesday.
The deaths have shaken the tiny West African nation, which is also dealing with multiple health emergencies, including measles and malaria.
Maiden Pharmaceuticals manufactures medicines at its facilities in India, which it then sells domestically as well as exporting them to countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, according to its website.