Nigeria doctors on alert after drug kills 25 infants

By Randy Fabi

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria’s drug administration agency warned doctors across the country Wednesday to be on the lookout for symptoms of toxic poisoning in babies after contaminated teething syrup killed at least 25 infants.

The National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) said tests had shown traces of the chemical diethylene glycol, a poisonous substance normally used in engine coolant, in the widely-sold “My Pikin” baby teething mixture.

Twenty-five children who had all been given the drug have died from kidney failure at three hospitals across Africa’s most populous nation, in the commercial capital Lagos, the southwestern town of Ibadan and the northern town of Zaria.

Around 40 other children aged between four months and three years have been hospitalized after being given “My Pikin” with symptoms including diarrhea, vomiting, fever and convulsions as well as an inability to pass urine for days.

“I believe this is the tip of the iceberg because most of the mothers whose babies are involved may not have taken them to hospital,” NAFDAC Director-General Dora Akunyili told Reuters.

“It is a scary scenario. We have tried to ensure people stop using this … we have sent our officers to all shops and markets across the country,” she said.

Akunyili said 3,000 bottles of the drug, made by Lagos-based Barewa Pharmaceuticals and easily available over the counter, were believed to have been contaminated with diethylene glycol.

Nigeria is home to 140 million people, many of whom lack access to anything but the most basic healthcare. Health officials fear some doctors in village clinics may not recognize or correctly diagnose the symptoms of the poisoning.

Barewa Pharmaceuticals, which has been closed down by NAFDAC while it investigates the source of the contamination, could not immediately be reached for comment. The gates of its offices in a residential suburb of Lagos were closed.

Akunyili said the government had also closed down a Lagos-based company called Tranxell Ltd which is believed to have supplied chemicals to Barewa. She said the owner was being questioned over where he imported the chemicals from.

“It can’t be providing only to Barewa. It could be in other products, that is the issue,” Akunyili said.

NAFDAC, which has led a crackdown on counterfeit drugs in Nigeria in recent years, issues permits to allow companies to import chemicals.

Akunyili said late Tuesday that no company had been given permission to import diethylene glycol and that the chemical therefore appeared to have been smuggled into Nigeria.

Cough syrup from China adulterated with diethylene glycol killed at least 115 people in Panama in 2006.

Two brands of Chinese toothpaste were banned in the Dominican Republic in May 2007 because of fears that they contained the lethal chemical.  Continued…


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