With a population of less than 2.5 million, Gambia is only slightly more than a speck on the African map. Last week, however, it made international headlines as World Health Organization (WHO) announced an alert over four cold and cough syrups made by Maiden Pharmaceuticals in India, warning that they could be linked to the deaths of 66 children in the Gambia.
Cough Syrups Specifically Linked to Child Deaths
According to the medical product alert issued by WHO Wednesday, the four products are Promethazine Oral Solution, Kofexmalin Baby Cough Syrup, Makoff Baby Cough Syrup and Magrip N Cold Syrup.
Cause of Deaths
The immediate cause of deaths of those young children in Gambia were acute kidney injuries, but, a Gambian health ministry investigation, which began in July and is ongoing, cited the E. coli bacteria present in the cough syrups as a possible cause of the acute kidney failure outbreak.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also told reporters that:
“The four cold and cough syrups in question have been potentially linked with acute kidney injuries and 66 deaths among children. The loss of these young lives is beyond heartbreaking for their families. WHO is conducting further investigation with the company and regulatory authorities in India”.
Investigation against Cough Syrups
On Thursday, Gambian authorities began collecting paracetamol and promethazine syrup from rural households in the West Coast Region and Upper River Region.
“The preliminary results from the ongoing investigation indicate that it is most probably the paracetamol and promethazine syrups that caused the acute kidney injury cases in this outbreak,” The nephrologist leading the health ministry’s investigation, Abubacarr Jagne, reported.
The sewers and latrines had overflown as a result the severe flooding in July 2022 in Gambia. Since then, there has been an increase in the number of severe kidney disease with high fatality among children mainly following diarrheal diseases, as the ministry said in a statement in September.
The statement said that they found E. coli bacteria in the stools of many children, but many had also taken paracetamol syrup. The alert issued by WHO highlighted that these substances (like E. coli bacteria) are toxic to humans and can be fatal. It said that the toxic effect “can include abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, inability to pass urine, headache, altered mental state and acute kidney injury which may lead to death”.
India’s health ministry said that India is investigating the deaths and that Maiden manufactured and exported the syrup only to the west African nation. India’s government has asked the WHO to share its report linking the deaths with the cough syrup and ensured that they will take all required steps in the matter.
Despite the official statement by India, WHO said in an email, “However, the supply of these products through informal or unregulated markets to other countries in Africa, cannot be ruled out. In addition, the manufacturer may have used the same contaminated material in other products and distributed them locally or exported,” it warned. “Global exposure is therefore possible.”
Due to which, other flood-ravaged nations especially need to be cautious about that and work on detecting and removing these products on circulation.