NIGERIA: Painkiller leaves 84 children dead

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Health authorities in Nigeria announced on 4 February that 84 children have died and a further 27 have fallen ill since November as a result of ingesting a pain-relief syrup called ‘My Pikin’.

The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) discovered in November that the product contained the chemical Diethylene glycol, which can be lethal to babies and children.

The chemical has been involved in a number of poisonings in the past after being added to medicines, according to consumer groups.

My Pikin, a Nigerian-made product, is administered mostly to teething children to relieve sore gums.

NAFDAC first discovered the mixture was contaminated in mid-November, following an upsurge in reported cases of acute renal failure in children in three hospitals: Lagos hospital, Ibadan hospital in neighbouring Ono state, and Zaria hospital in Kaduna state in the north. In each of these hospitals, ‘My Pikin’ had been administered to children.

The affected children were between six months and eight years old.

“The affected children exhibited renal failure as well as other symptoms, which included fever, puffiness of the face, vomiting, diarrhea, cough and catarrh,” Jide Idris, health commissioner in Lagos state, told IRIN.

Maryam Ibrahim told IRIN: “I have lost my eight-month-old baby [because of] My Pikin syrup and my heart aches from this callousness. I'm now suspicious of any locally manufactured pediatric drug. Although [local products] are cheaper, I now prefer purchasing foreign ones. I can't take any chances with my other two children.”

Her child was one of 11 who died at Ahmadu Bello Teaching Hospital in Zaria after being prescribed the contaminated product.

NAFDAC spokesperson, Abubakar Jimoh, told IRIN: "The death toll could be higher as many people here self-medicate and do not go to hospital, so some deaths of children in villages may not have been reported.”

NAFDAC stopped the sale of My Pikin in November and ordered its manufacturer, Barewa Pharmaceuticals, and suppliers of the toxic chemical, Tranxell, to be shut down, arresting the companies’ owners.

But health authorities have found it difficult to track down all batches of the product on the market.

“So far we have recalled over 5,000 bottles of the drug, but we face an uphill task of retrieving all the contaminated batches of the teething mixture. We are ransacking all the shelves of drug stores and markets across the country," NAFDAC’s Jimoh told IRIN.

“We are trying to ensure that no other manufacturer had bought the [harmful] chemical from Tranxell but as a precaution, we advise parents to shun all paracetamol syrups and go for tablets. It is better to play it safe while investigation is going on,” he said.

Representatives of the two companies could not be reached for comment.