Four types of medicine, made in India, caused the deaths of at least 70 children in Gambia last year, according to a presidential commission of inquiry.
According to the World Health Organisation the syrups contained “unacceptable” quantities of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol; commonly used as antifreeze. The chemicals can be fatal and led to acute kidney failure in dozens of children.
In October 2022, Gambia recalled a number of medicines following the deaths of the children, including all cough and cold syrups in circulation, as well as all products manufactured by the Indian firm Maiden Pharmaceuticals, where the contaminated syrups came from.
The inquiry concluded that the medicines had not been registered with the medicines control agency prior to being imported, as required by the regulations.
The commissions also noted the urgent need to set up a quality control laboratory to carry out tests on all medicines imported into the country.
The Health Minister pointed to a number of areas for improvement to ensure a better quality health system, such as the creation of a school of pharmacy at the university and stricter control of medicines in circulation.
He also said that the Gambian government was exploring ways of taking legal action against the Indian pharmaceutical laboratory from which the drugs originated, in order to obtain compensation.
Following the health scandal, India shut down the Maiden Pharmaceuticals factory in northern India in October 2022.
A trial on the case is due to open in Gambia in October.
In early 2023, WHO called for “immediate and coordinated action” to eradicate non-compliant and falsified medicines, particularly contaminated cough syrups.
In all, 300 children in Gambia, Indonesia and Uzbekistan have died.