Nigerian court arraigns men in tainted teething syrup case

nigerian child pictureThree men have been arraigned in a Federal High Court in Lagos, Nigeria, charged with deliberately adulterating a teething syrup product and causing the deaths of more than 80 infants.

Nigeria’s National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), which is bringing the case, says that 84 children died in 2008 after being administered Barewa Pharmaceuticals’ My Pikin paracetamol-based teething syrup before it was later withdrawn from the market.

Several other children who received the product subsequently suffered adverse reactions including fever, convulsions, diarrhoea, and kidney failure.

The cause of the deaths is believed to be diethylene glycol (DEG) which has been linked to hundreds of deaths worldwide in the last 20 years.

An incident in Panama in 2006 saw 21 people die after taking a cough syrup made with DEG that had been mislabelled as glycerol, a widely used excipient. A similar case involving DEG in cough syrup in 1996 led to the deaths of 88 people in Haiti, while in 1990-1992 paracetamol syrup in which DEG was substituted for propylene glycol caused 236 deaths in India and Bangladesh.

And Nigeria also has another serious example in its history books. In 1990, 47 people died in the country after taking a cough syrup contaminated with solvents.

In the latest case, Kola Gbadegbesin Okunlola, the chief executive of Barewa has been charged with “intent to cause death or grievous bodily harm to members of the public.”

The court must determine whether the DEG got into the teething syrup as a result of mislabelling, contamination or deliberate substitution of one substance for another.

Okunlola pleaded not guilty to the charges at the hearing on March 2, aas did two other company officials,  Adeyemo Abiodun and Egbele Austine Eromosele. If convicted, the defendants are facing a jail term of between five and 15 years and a possible fine.

The NAFDAC’s director-general, Paul Orhii, said last month that the agency is seeking the maximum penalty.

The presiding judge in the case, Justice Okechukwu Okeke, has adjourned the case until May 4.

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