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Justice at last? The Nigerian baby mixture scandal

By Tim Sandle     May 31, 2013 in Health
Barewa Pharmaceutical Ltd have been prosecuted in Nigeria for producing contaminated ‘My Pikin’ baby mixture, which caused the death of 84 children.
On November 18, 2008, the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH) received a report of 13 cases of unexplained acute renal failure among children from a hospital in Lagos state. On November 21, officials from the Nigerian National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) discovered diethylene glycol (DEG) in four batches of the teething medication manufactured during August--October 2009. The medication was called ‘My Pikin’.
The children were stricken with fever, convulsions, diarrhea and vomiting. It is estimated that eighty-four children died. The dead ranged from 2 months to 7 years old. In addition, over one hundred other children became sick. It was unclear if any of the teething formula had been shipped overseas, but most products made in Nigeria are designed for domestic sale in Africa's largest market.
After a long investigation, the justice system in Nigeria has concluded that the ‘My Pikin’ baby mixture was contaminated due to the manufacturer using Diethylene Glycol in place of Propylene Glycol in the product. Diethylene Glycol is an ingredient in anti-freeze and brake fluid, which is also used as industrial solvent. Propylene glycol is harmless and sweet, used in a wide range of medicines and foods, but more expensive than Diethylene Glycol. Counterfeiters and chemical dealers push up their profits by selling the cheaper Diethylene Glycol as Propylene Glycol. This is what appears to have tragically happened with the babt mixture called ‘My Pikin’.
A Federal High Court in Lagos now has closed down the pharmaceutical company Barewa Pharmaceutical Ltd and confiscated its assets. In addition, the Production Manager, Abiodun Adeyemo and the Quality Assurance Manager of the firm, Ebele Austine Eromosele, were sentenced to 14 years jail term on two separate counts.
The judgement came in the wake of the declaration from President Goodluck Jonathan regarding zero-tolerance for fake drugs. This is in keeping with advice from the World Health Organization body: Counterfeit drugs kill! IMPACT -- International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Task Force.
Diethylene glycol has also been implicated in poisoning cases around the world, including in Panama, where at least 116 people died in 2006 after taking contaminated cough syrup, antihistamine tablets, calamine lotion and rash ointment made at a government laboratory.
In fact the contaminant has a terrible history within the drugs industry. In 1938 in the United States 105 people died after having consumed an elixir containing diethylene glycol in an event that spawned the birth of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Other global events include the incident in 1969 in South Africa when seven children died after taking a contaminated sedative. In 1998, a syrup for children containing diethylene glycol sickened 109 children and killed 80 in Haiti. Hopefully lessons will be learnt from this latest tragedy.
More about Baby, Nigeria, My Pikin, diethylene glycol, Toxin
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