Tainted teething syrup kills 84 babies in Nigeria

'My Child' medicine found to contain anti-freeze

By Daniel Howden,Africa Correspondent
Saturday 07 February 2009 01:00

At least 84 babies have died in Nigeria after being fed a tainted teething syrup containing chemicals used in anti-freeze and brake fluid, the Health Ministry in Abuja has revealed.

The contaminated drug called My Pikin, Nigerian pidgin for "my child", brought on fever, convulsions, diarrhoea and vomiting, and left the victims unable to urinate. Of the 111 babies known to have received the poisonous batch, three-quarters have died. The scale of the fatalities and the horrendous nature of the babies' deaths has sparked outrage in the West African nation, where the government is accused of failing to warn families of the danger. "The death of any Nigerian child is a great loss to the nation," said Nigeria's Health Minister Babatunde Oshotimehin. "The Ministry of Health sincerely regrets this painful incidence and sympathises with the nation and the families directly affected."

News of the deadly syrup emerged in November when children as young as two months began dying of organ failure and a government investigation was launched. Pharmacies were told to turn over the stock of the mixture. It remains unclear whether all supplies of My Pikin have been returned.

Investigators found that the paracetamol-based mixture had been laced with an agent more commonly used as engine coolant – diethylene glycol.

It is sometimes illegally used as a cheaper alternative to glycerin in products like toothpaste. However, large doses of the chemical can cause massive liver and kidney damage even in adults. Batches of My Pikin were contaminated after the producer bought the chemicals from the slums of Lagos to save costs, according to Nigeria's food standards agency NAFDAC.

Gladys Eke, the head of the agency, described the infants' deaths as "horrible" and said that unqualified people were buying chemicals without knowing what they were getting.

"Somebody somewhere is just going to the market picking up chemicals from anybody, anywhere and combining it," she told local media.

The government in Nigeria is being accused of downplaying the seriousness of the drug scandal and sitting on a health ministry report revealing the full extent of the deadly contamination.

The deaths have triggered comparisons with the milk scandal in China, where at least six babies died and 300,000 fell ill after drinking tainted milk powder. That led to two men being given the death penalty for their involvement in the affair.

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