Cough syrup deaths in Gambia- Need for a sensitive approach by India

cough syrup medicine pharma



Shri Rajesh Bhushan
Union Health Secretary

Dear Shri Rajesh Bhushan,

I had earlier expressed my concerns about the implications of the death of 70 children in Gambia, allegedly the victims of substandard cough syrup manufactured by Maiden Pharma in Haryana. My letters 6-10-2022 and 12-10-2022 refer (

You may have seen the recent news reports on a Select Committee of the Gambian National Assembly indicting the Indian drug company for the children’s deaths ( The Select Committee has apparently recommended to the Gambian government that Maiden Pharma company should be blacklisted and sued. One of the aspects that should cause serious concern in India is that the select Committee’s attempts to contact Modern Pharma failed to elicit any response from the company, which shows that the company had no satisfactory answers.

Meanwhile, it is somewhat distressing that the Drug Controller in India has taken a defensive stance, bordering on holding a brief for Modern Pharma. This needs to be viewed in the overall context of several States expressing their concern about the quality of drugs, especially since cough syrups made by Maiden Pharma and a few other drug companies caused illness among children during the last five or six years, in J&K, Himachal Pradesh and several other States. Apparently, regulation of the pharma manufacturing sector in India leaves much to be desired.

What happened in Gambia should wake up the Health Ministry in India to the need for stricter regulation of the pharma companies to ensure that they do not produce and supply substandard drugs within India and in the overseas markets. India is trying to step up pharma exports and incidents such as the one that occurred in Gambia will hinder that effort.

I hope your Ministry will get a copy of the Gambian Parliament committee report and study the implications.

It is relevant to refer here to a ban imposed very recently by Nepal on 16 Indian pharmaceutical companies ( on the ground that they failed to comply with the WHO notified standards. If India wishes to be an exporter of pharma items, the least it could do is to ensure that the domestic pharma units scrupulously conform to the global standards. The domestic market is equally entitled to be supplied with good quality medicines.

Most pharma manufacturing units in India are highly polluting and their safety track record is dismal. While ease-of-doing business is necessary, it should not imply that the pharma units should be under-regulated.


Yours sincerely,

E A S Sarma
Former Secretary to Government of India


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