Syrup from India caused mass child deaths in Gambia, confirms panel of experts

News Network
May 24, 2023

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Tainted syrup medicine imported from India was the cause of an outbreak of kidney failure that killed more than 60 children in the West African nation of Gambia last year, according to a report by a team of international experts.

The report, submitted to the Gambian health ministry earlier this year and not yet made public, is the most definitive statement yet on the cause of the episode. It contradicts the official position of Indian authorities, who insist that the country’s products weren’t to blame. A director for the Gambian ministry of health didn’t respond to calls and an emailed request for comment.

Although the committee was able to establish that a child drank the contaminated medicine from an Indian drugmaker, Maiden Pharmaceuticals Ltd., in only 22 deaths from so-called acute kidney injury, or AKI, it said that symptoms in 30 others were consistent with the poison’s effects and no other cause could be found. It lacked enough information on 13 more cases. 

“The outbreak of AKI in children in the Gambia is attributable to medicines contaminated with DEG/EG,” the committee concluded, referring to the two contaminants, diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol.

Last year’s outbreak sparked concerns about the quality of generic medicine from India, an export powerhouse that calls itself the “pharmacy of the world.” Those concerns intensified this year when exported syrups from two other Indian manufacturers were found to be tainted in the same way, leading in one case to about 20 deaths in Uzbekistan.

“We have made our stand clear that as per our testing, the product had no issue,” said Rajeev Raghuvanshi, the Indian drug controller general, in a text message to Bloomberg. He referred further questions to the health ministry, which didn’t respond to requests for comment. A representative of Maiden also didn’t respond to inquiries.

India’s central government this week imposed a new regulation requiring cough syrup to be tested by a government lab before it can be exported.

Products from Maiden, a small New Delhi firm, fell under suspicion in Gambia last September, when health officials investigating the outbreak arranged tests of several drugs given to children prior to their deaths. Three labs in three different countries would eventually confirm the presence of the contaminants in Maiden products, the committee said in its report. 

The World Health Organization issued a public alert in October and Gambia recalled the drugs.

“After the poisonous medicines were withdrawn, there were no further cases,” said Kalle Hoppu, one of the committee members, in an email to Bloomberg. He called that “a very definitive sign that this outbreak was caused by these medicines.” Hoppu is a former director of the Poison Information Center at Helsinki University Hospital in Finland.

Indian authorities have defended the drugs. In December, the Indian drug controller general at the time, V.G. Somani, told the WHO that his organization’s own tests of Maiden drugs found no contamination. He went on to accuse the agency of acting on flimsy evidence and having “adversely impacted the image of Indian pharmaceutical products across the globe.” As recently as March, the Indian government said in a statement that the drugs weren’t tainted and didn’t kill anyone. 

Earlier reports by a Gambian parliamentary committee and by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both pointed to the Maiden drugs as the most plausible explanation for the outbreak. But the report by the 11-member expert committee was the first charged specifically with establishing the cause. 

The panel was set up by Gambia’s health ministry and consisted of five clinicians from local hospitals, two WHO officials, and four consultants from Senegal, Finland, and the UK. It was chaired by Abdou Niang, a nephrologist and professor at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Senegal. Members met for a week in December, and Hoppu said the report was submitted to the health ministry sometime around February. It’s unclear why the report has not been made public.

At the time the committee convened in December, Gambian authorities had logged 70 deaths of children suffering from AKI. Of those, the committee couldn’t get detailed information on 13, and it concluded that one death wasn’t consistent with AKI. That left 56 deaths that it examined in detail. The children in this group were about two years old on average, the committee report said.

In only four of the 56 cases did the committee find a possible alternative or contributing cause, such as Covid-19 or severe malaria. That left the 22 it tied to consumption of Maiden drugs, and 30 others where consumption of the drugs wasn’t established but the symptoms were consistent with exposure to the contaminants and no alternative cause was found. The report noted that parents can’t always recall the brand of medications they give their children. 

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News Network
June 11,2024

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New Delhi: Indian universities and higher education institutions will now be allowed to offer admissions twice a year on lines of foreign universities with the University Grants Commission giving a go ahead to the plan, UGC chief Jagadesh Kumar said.

The two admission cycles will be July-August and January-February from the 2024-25 academic session.

"If Indian universities can offer admission twice a year, it will benefit many students such as those who missed admission to a university in the July-August session due to a delay in the announcement of board results, health issues, or personal reasons," Kumar said.

"Biannual university admissions will help students maintain motivation since they do not have to wait one full year to be admitted if they miss admission in the current cycle. With biannual admissions in place, industries can also do their campus recruitment twice a year, improving employment opportunities for the graduates," he added.

The UGC chief explained that biannual admissions will also enable the higher education institutes (HEIs) to plan their resource distribution, such as faculty, labs, classrooms and support services, more efficiently, resulting in a better functional flow within the university.

"Universities worldwide already follow a biannual admission system. If Indian HEIs adopt the biannual admission cycle, our HEIs can enhance their international collaborations and student exchanges. As a result, our global competitiveness will improve, and we will align with the global educational standards," Kumar said.

"If HEIs adopt biannual admissions, they need to work on administrative intricacies, good planning for increased use of available resources, and providing seamless support systems for the smooth transition of students admitted at dissimilar times of the year. HEIs can maximize the usefulness of biannual admissions only when they sufficiently prepare faculty members, staff and students for the transition," he added.

Kumar, however, clarified that it will not be mandatory to offer biannual admissions for universities and those HEIs that have the required infrastructure and teaching faculty can utilise the opportunity.

"Offering biannual admissions will not be mandatory for the HEIs, it is the flexibility that UGC provides to the HEIs which want to increase their student intake and offer new programmes in emerging areas. To be able to admit students twice a year, HEIs must make suitable amendments to their institutional regulations," he said. 

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News Network
June 9,2024

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Maharashtra Deputy CM and NCP chief Ajit Pawar on Sunday informed that the BJP had offered a Ministry of State portfolio with independent charge to Praful Patel. He said Patel has served as a cabinet minister in the central government and "we did not feel right in taking the Minister of State with independent charge". So we told them (BJP) that we are ready to wait for a few days, but we want a cabinet ministry. We are going to attend the swearing-in ceremony today..."

Pawar said, "We have one Lok Sabha and one Rajya Sabha MP today, but in the next 2-3 months we will have a total of 3 members in the Rajya Sabha and our number of MPs in Parliament will be 4. So we said we should be given one (cabinet ministry) seat."

Praful Patel said that last night, he was informed that his party would get a Minister of State with independent charge. "I was earlier a Cabinet Minister in the Union Government, so this will be a demotion for me. We have informed the BJP leadership and they have already told us to just wait for a few days, they will take remedial measures."

The NCP contested 4 seats in Maharashtra but could win only 1. NCP's other two allies in the state Sena and BJP bagged 7 and 9 seats respectively. 

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News Network
June 8,2024

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New Delhi: The Congress Working Committee passed the resolution that party MP Rahul Gandhi should be appointed as the Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha, sources said today.

Rahul Gandhi won the Lok Sabha elections from Raebareli in Uttar Pradesh and Wayanad in Kerala.

"All members have given their proposal to the party president. Rahul ji has requested some time to think. However, we want him to stand as strong Leader of Opposition," said All India Mahila Congress president Alka Lamba.

After the CWC meeting, Congress MP Kumari Selja said, "It was the CWC's wish that Rahul Gandhi be elected the LoP..."

Senior Congress leader and newly elected MP from Alappuzha KC Venugopal said "CWC unanimously requested Rahul Gandhi ji to take the responsibility of the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha."

The CWC resolution praised Rahul Gandhi for his efforts in the election campaign.

"Former Congress President Rahul Gandhi has to be singled out largely because of the Bharat Jodo Yatra and the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra that he designed and led. Both these Yatras that reflected his thinking and personality were historic turning points in our nation's politics and instilled hope and confidence in lakhs of our workers and crores of our voters. Rahul Gandhi's election campaign was single-minded, sharp and pointed and more than any other individual it was he who made the protection of our republic's Constitution the central issue in the 2024 elections. The PaanchNyay-Pachees Guarantee programme which resonated so very powerfully in the election campaign was the outcome of Rahulji's yatras in which he listened to the fears, concerns and aspirations of all people, especially youth, women, farmers, workers, Dalits, Adivasis, OBCs and minorities," it said.

The meeting of the extended Congress Working Committee was held in the national capital on Saturday. The meeting was attended by Congress Parliamentary Party chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge, Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi, Manish Tiwari, DK Shivakumar, and Revanth Reddy among others.

Speaking after the CWC meeting, Congress Rajya Sabha MP Pramod Tiwari said, "Definitely he (Rahul Gandhi) should become (LoP in Lok Sabha). This was the request of our working committee. He is fearless and courageous."

Earlier in the day, several party leaders voiced their demand that Rahul Gandhi should take over the key role.

Speaking on the same, Telangana Chief Minister Revanth Reddy said that this is the demand of 140 crore Indians.

"Our demand is the same as that of 140 crore Indians. Rahul Gandhi has to take the position as the leader of the Opposition. Rahul Gandhi has been fighting for women and the unemployed," he said.

Congress MP Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa who won the Lok Sabha election from Gurdaspur said that Rahul Gandhi is someone who can reply to the Prime Minister in the Parliament and hence he should assume the position of LoP.

"We will play the role of a strong Opposition in the Parliament. Yes, we want the country to get such a face who can reply to the Prime Minister. I think the entire country wants this," he said.

After the Lok Sabha Polls, the Congress has emerged as the second-largest party in the election and improved its tally to 100, from 52 in the 2019 Lok Sabha poll.

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