An unnamed middleman in Mumbai provided a crucial raw material used in Indian-made cough syrups that have been linked to the deaths of more than 70 children in Gambia, a chemicals trader involved in the supply chain told Reuters.
The World Health Organization said last year the syrups, made by Indian manufacturer Maiden Pharmaceuticals Ltd, contained lethal toxins ethylene glycol (EG) and diethylene glycol (DEG) – used in car brake fluid. These ingredients can be used by unscrupulous actors as a substitute for propylene glycol (PG), which is a key base of syrupy medicines – because they can cost less than half the price, as Reuters reported in March.
The children who died were mostly under age 5 and died of acute kidney injury, some within days of taking the syrups.
India’s drugs regulator told the WHO in December that the propylene glycol used in the syrups came from Goel Pharma Chem, a Delhi-based pharma-supplies company, and was “recorded to have been imported” from South Korean manufacturer SKC Co Ltd.
Sharad Goel, whose eponymously named company is based in north Delhi, said he had bought the ingredient in sealed barrels – but not directly from SKC.
We bought the propylene glycol from an importer in Mumbai who bought it from SKC,” Goel told Reuters in February, speaking out for the first time.
Goel subsequently stopped answering calls and when a reporter called at his business twice in April, it was locked. Workers at a neighbouring factory said they had not seen it opening in the past few months.