Gambia ‘advanced’ in exploring legal action over toxic Indian cough syrup

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Gambia’s government is “far advanced” in exploring avenues for potential legal action against Indian drugmaker Maiden Pharmaceuticals and a local distributor over toxic cough syrups believed to have killed dozens of children, it said on Friday.

At least 70 children in Gambia, most under 5 years old, died from acute kidney injury last year. A government task force which investigated the deaths found they were “a direct result” of contaminated cough and cold syrups imported from India.

Gambia has fired the executive director and deputy director of its Medicines Control Agency (MCA) and referred the matter to police after the task force found that the medicines in question were not registered with the MCA, which is required by law, the government said in a statement.

The small West African country has hired a US law firm to explore legal action, the justice minister previously told Reuters.

The Indian drugmaker Maiden Pharmaceuticals has denied wrongdoing, and the Indian government says that tests it conducted on the drugs showed they were not contaminated. Atlantic Pharmaceuticals, a local distributor of the drugs, could not be reached.

Families of 20 of the children have already sued the two companies as well as Gambian authorities.

“The government is currently benefiting from legal advice from a top tier international law firm,” Gambia’s government said in the statement, adding it is also pursuing potential redress through engagement with the Government of India.

It also said that the health ministry has hired a firm that is reviewing all the health-related legislation in the Gambia.

The World Health Organization said last year that the India-made cough syrups contained lethal toxins ethylene glycol and diethylene glycol, commonly used in car brake fluid and other products not fit for human consumption.

“There is an urgent need for a quality control laboratory to conduct proper testing on all medicines and related products imported into the country,” the Gambian statement said, adding that the World Bank is helping the country build a laboratory.