Deaths of Gambian children cast dark shadow over India’s drugs industry


The tragic demise of 66 children in the West African nation of Gambia as a result of the use of suspect cough remedies has brought into focus a dangerous aspect of India’s massive pharmaceutical industry.

The Indian medical regulatory body, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO), announced it had launched an investigation into Maiden Pharmaceuticals, the maker of four cough and cold syrups the World Health Organization (WHO) said might be responsible for the deaths of the children.

The syrups contained “unacceptable amounts” of contaminating diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol, a WHO analysis found.

The disastrous incident has come as a rude shock to India’s flourishing pharmaceutical industry, often touted to be the “pharmacy of the world”.

The industry is one of the major contributors to the economy and it is the world’s third-largest industry by volume.

Pharmaceuticals world leader

India is the largest provider of generic medicines, occupying a 20 percent share in global supply by volume, and is the leading vaccine manufacturer.

The pharmaceutical industry is worth around €50 billion, according to various estimates.

“We don't seem to learn from such previous incidents. This has repeated itself again. Drug regulation is governed by a law that is ill-equipped to regulate a complex market like India,” Vikas Bajpai, a public health expert told RFI.

“We continue to be in denial over quality-related concerns expressed by national and international observers."

After this tragedy, India phased out cough syrups in favour of suspensions that do not carry the risk of containing the two toxins.

Read more on RFI

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