The Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) has initiated an investigation after the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued an alert following the death of 66 children in the West African nation of Gambia. The children had consumed cough syrup manufactured by a Haryana-based company. The Indian regulator has asked the WHO to share information on the establishment of a causal relation between the medical products and the deaths. The UN’s health arm has not yet announced a specific cause for the deaths. Preliminary reports suggest that the medicines were contaminated with the dangerous diethylene glycol or ethylene glycol.
It is perhaps for the first time that an Indian drug manufacturer is in the dock for causing deaths in a foreign nation. The Government of India must take it as an event that can have long-standing consequences. It must work with Gambian and WHO authorities as well as the Haryana government to get to the root of the matter. Should they establish a link between the consumption of the drug and the deaths, the most stringent of legal measures should be taken not only against the company but also against officials entrusted with certifying the manufacturing process and the medicine’s quality.
The child deaths are unfortunate; they should serve as a wakeup call for the government to check and find out if regulatory mechanisms in a nation which prides itself as the pharmaceutical hub of the world have slackened. The $40 billion Indian pharmaceuticals industry is the world’s third largest by volume and 14th largest in terms of value. A half of its annual income comes from exports. It is one of the fastest growing sectors of the Indian economy clocking an annual growth of 10-11 per cent.
India was one of the biggest contributors of vaccines against Covid-19, reasserting its superior position in pharma. Built over decades, its reputation could be lost in no time if another such incident takes place. The government must use this as an opportunity to tighten the net for drugs used locally as well as in foreign nations....