Nigeria child deaths from tainted syrup rise to 84

ABUJA (Reuters) - The number of children killed in Nigeria by teething syrup tainted with a poisonous chemical has risen to 84, more than three times as many as was announced in December, the health minister said Friday.

Babatunde Osotimehin said there were 111 reported cases of children who had fallen ill after taking “My Pikin” teething syrup contaminated with diethylene glycol, a compound blamed for causing kidney failure.

“The poison has caused many deaths in children between the ages of 2 months and 7 years old in Nigeria. One hundred and eleven cases have been reported since November and 84 children are reported dead,” the minister said in a statement.

The first case was discovered on November 3 with symptoms including diarrhoea, vomiting, fever, convulsions and an inability to pass urine. Health officials said in December that 24 children had died.

More than 400 bottles of My Pikin syrup have been retrieved from markets around the country and a number of people involved in distributing it have been arrested. The Lagos-based company which makes the syrup has been closed down.

Tainted, fake and counterfeit drugs have long been a problem in Africa’s most populous nation, though the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has been leading a crackdown.

In 1990, 109 children in Ibadan and the central city of Jos died after taking paracetamol syrup which contained ethylene glycol solvent, a compound related to diethylene glycol and also normally used in engine coolant.

Reporting by Camillus Eboh; Writing by Tume Ahemba; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Tim Pearce