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Gambia Hires US Lawyers Over Tainted Cough Syrup

FILE: A nurse at the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital in Banjul, Gambia, November 4, 2022. In October 2022, more than 70 Gambian children died from injuries linked to cough syrups made in India and contaminated with ethylene glycol (EG) and diethylene glycol (DEG).

BANJUL - Gambia has hired a U.S. law firm to explore legal action after a government-backed investigation found that contaminated medicines from India were "very likely" to have caused the deaths of children last year, the justice minister told Reuters.

Gambian Justice Minister Dawda Jallow told Reuters legal action was one option under consideration by the government, the first sign of potential international litigation over the deaths. Jallow did not say who would be the target of potential legal proceedings or name the law firm hired to help.

At least 70 children in Gambia, most under 5 years old, died from acute kidney injury between June and October.

Local doctors suspected cough syrups imported from India were the likely culprit, Reuters reported earlier this year, and tests by the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed the presence of lethal toxins, sparking a global hunt for contaminated medicines.

The medicines linked to the children's deaths were made by Indian drug maker Maiden Pharmaceuticals, which denied wrongdoing.

Tests by the WHO found that the Maiden cough syrups contained the lethal toxins diethylene glycol (DEG) and ethylene glycol (EG), used in car brake fluid. India's government has said its own tests on the drugs found no toxins.

A new Gambian government-commissioned causality assessment by a panel of international experts has been compiled, Jallow said.

Reuters has seen a copy of the report, which was presented to President Adama Barrow in April but has not been made public.

In it, experts said they analyzed 56 of the cases of acute kidney injury. Of those, they found 22 were "very likely" to have died from DEG or EG poisoning after taking Maiden products.

Indian officials have said the WHO failed to prove a causal link to the Gambia deaths, accusing the agency of denigrating its $41 billion pharmaceutical industry. However, cough syrups made by a second Indian drugmaker have been linked to the deaths of 19 children in Uzbekistan. India has since made drug testing mandatory for cough syrups before export.

India's health ministry and Maiden did not respond to requests for comment on Gambia's possible legal action. The WHO declined to comment.