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Toxic teething syrup claimed 84 in Nigeria

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 announced in December.

Health Minister Babatunde Osotimehin said on Friday 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 chemical looks, smells and tastes like glycerin, a sweet syrup commonly used in a wide range of medicines, foods and toothpaste. Counterfeiters enhance their profit by substituting diethylene glycol, which is relatively cheap, for the more expensive but harmless glycerin.

"The poison has caused many deaths in children between the ages of two months and seven years old in Nigeria. One hundred and eleven cases have been reported since November and 84 children are reported dead," the minister said.

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 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.


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