BANJUL — The Gambia has launched an emergency door-to-door campaign to remove cough and cold syrups responsible for the deaths of more than 60 children from kidney injuries in the tiny West African country.
Health Director Dr. Mustapha Bittaye confirmed to The Associated Press the spate of child deaths from acute kidney injury, sending shock waves across the country of 2.4 million people and around the world.
The World Health Organization has issued an alert in response to the deaths.
“WHO has issued a medical product alert for four contaminated medicines found in The Gambia, which are potentially linked to acute kidney injury and 66 child deaths,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement issued on Wednesday.
“The loss of young lives is beyond heartbreaking for their families,” he said.
The four medicines are cough and cold syrups produced in India, the WHO statement said.
Although the contaminated products have so far only been detected in The Gambia, they may have been distributed to other countries, it said. The WHO is continuing investigations with the company and regulators in India, it said.
“WHO recommends that all countries detect and remove these products from circulation to prevent further harm to patients,” it said.
In collaboration with the Gambia Red Cross Society, the Ministry of Health has sent hundreds of youths to collect the suspected syrups through a door-to-door campaign.
The Gambia Medical Research Council has also issued an alert.
“In the last week, we admitted a child with this condition (acute kidney injury) … and unfortunately he died. We were able to confirm that she had taken one of the drugs suspected to be causing this, prior to her arrival at our clinic. It had been purchased at a pharmacy in The Gambia,” the council said in a statement. “The drug has been identified as containing a significant amount of a toxin that irreversibly damages the kidneys.”
In India, the federal regulator and the state regulator in the northern state of Haryana are investigating the tainted drugs.
Of the 23 samples tested, four have so far been found to be contaminated and India is waiting for the analysis to be shared, said an Indian health official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Calls to the headquarters of the pharmaceutical company Maiden Pharmaceutical Limited went unanswered. Neither India’s health ministry nor the federal regulator responded to queries from the AP.