The deaths of 66 children from kidney injuries may be linked to four cough and cold syrups made by an Indian drug manufacturer, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the UN's health agency was conducting investigations along with Indian regulators and India's Maiden Pharmaceuticals.
WHO issues alert on four products
The WHO issued a medical product alert asking regulators to remove four products made by the Maiden Pharmaceuticals manufacturer from the market.
According to the alert, the drugs have only been identified in Gambia but may have been distributed in other countries through informal markets.
"In addition, the manufacturer may have used the same contaminated material in other products and distributed them locally or exported," the WHO warned. "Global exposure is therefore possible."
The four products identified by the alert were: Promethazine Oral Solution, Kofexmalin Baby Cough Syrup, Makoff Baby Cough Syrup and Magrip N Cold Syrup.
The UN agency said its lab analysis confirmed the presence of "unacceptable" amounts of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol.
The alert said that the two substances are toxic to humans and can cause acute kidney injury.
"To date, the stated manufacturer has not provided guarantees to WHO on the safety and quality of these products," the alert said.
Gambia investigates deaths
A spike in cases of acute kidney injury among children under the age of five was detected in Gambia in late July.
Last month, the government in Banjul said it was investigating the deaths, and the country's Health Ministry urged hospitals to stop using syrup-based paracetamol medication after at least 28 children died of kidney failure.
Gambia is already dealing with multiple health emergencies, including measles and malaria.
sdi/sms (AFP, Reuters)