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Consumer Safety

Ethylene glycol disputed as cause of children’s deaths in the Gambia

by K. V. Venkatasubramanian, special to C&EN
November 3, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 39


The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a global medical product alert last month for cough and cold syrups made by Maiden Pharmaceuticals after 70 infants who had consumed the syrups died. But the Gambia’s national drug regulatory body is disputing the cause of the deaths. In the WHO’s alert, the organization says that the syrups “contain unacceptable amounts of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol as contaminants.” Those chemicals and their metabolic by-products can fatally affect multiple body systems. Indian health officials and state drug regulators inspected Maiden’s main facility, located near Delhi, and halted production after finding rules violations. In particular, the company had not done appropriate quality-control testing of polypropylene glycol, a common ingredient in drug formulations, according to a notice issued by local drug authorities. The Indian regulators sent material samples for additional testing, and results of those tests have not been released. But the Gambia’s Medicines Control Agency has not confirmed the cause of the deaths and believes that some children died without consuming the syrups, agency official Tijan Jallow said at an Oct. 31 press conference.


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