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India awaits WHO report on any cough syrup-related deaths in Gambia

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NEW DELHI — The World Health Organization has warned that an Indian cough medication may cause kidney damage, which has led to the deaths of hundreds of children in the Gambia, according to two Indian officials speaking on Thursday.

The death of 66 children in the West African country is a blow to India’s image as a “pharmacy of the world” that delivers medications to other continents, notably Africa.

One of two anonymous health ministry employees who spoke to Reuters on the ministry’s behalf said, “Urgent investigation of the problem has been already taken up promptly after getting communication from WHO based on the available evidence.”

India has stated that “all needed steps will be done in the case,” however the country is currently waiting for a report from the WHO confirming “causal relation to death with the medicinal products in question” and other data.

On Wednesday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, told reporters that the WHO was working with India’s drug regulator and New Delhi-based cough syrup company Maiden Pharmaceuticals to investigate the deaths caused by acute renal damage.

According to the two individuals, the Drugs Controller General of India was notified of the deaths by the World Health Organization late last month, and the regulator immediately initiated an inquiry in conjunction with state authorities.

The World Health Organization reported that Maiden cough syrup tested positive for “unacceptable” levels of the hazardous substances diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol, which can cause severe kidney impairment.

An email and a phone call to the provided number for Maiden, which opened its doors in November 1990, were both ignored. The Indian government’s Drugs Controller General was likewise unreachable via phone.

Ministry of Commerce in India sources say that Maiden exclusively exported the syrup to Gambia. On its website, Maiden boasts about its three factories: those in Kundli and Panipat, both in the Indian state of Haryana, close to the capital city of New Delhi, and a brand new facility in the city of Faridabad.

It can produce 1.2 billion tablets, 300,000 ointment tubes, and 300,000 bottles of ointment per year in addition to 2.2 million bottles of syrup. According to the company, it not only distributes its wares domestically, but also to countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

According to the two sources, countries that import such items normally conduct tests on them before approving their usage.

The World Health Organization (WHO) speculated that the Maiden goods, which included the Promethazine Oral Solution, Kofexmalin Baby Cough Syrup, Makoff Baby Cough Syrup, and Magrip N Cold Syrup, may have been sold in other countries through unofficial channels besides Gambia.