LAGOS, Feb 11 – Twelve people have been arrested and will soon be prosecuted over an adulterated teething drug that has killed 84 Nigerian children, the country’s food and drug control agency NAFDAC said on Wednesday.,
"We have arrested 12 suspects — five from Barewa Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer and seven marketers of the fake chemical used for the production of the drug," NAFDAC director-general Paul Orhii told reporters in Lagos.
He said that the suspects, if convicted, faced a maximum of 15 years in prison or a fine of 500,000 naira ($3,500).
"We will henceforth zealously prosecute people who manufacture dangerous products that hurt or kill Nigerians," he said.
Nigerian law, which provides for the death penalty for armed robbery, is relatively lenient when it comes to the manufacture and distribution of dangerous products.
The drug, My Pikin ("my child" in local pidgin) was discovered to contain the poisonous chemical diethylene glycol, normally used in brake fluid and as an engine coolant.
The drug, made by Lagos-based Barewa Pharmaceuticals, is mostly administered on teething children to relieve sore gums.
Since November, 84 children aged between two months and seven years — three-quarters of the 111 known to have ingested the drug — have died from kidney failure.
Orhii said the agency, which has withdrawn My Pikin from circulation, would seek compensation for the victims.
He said "no new cases have been reported for more than a month," stressing all 84 deaths were recorded in November and December last year.
Some of the deaths recorded then were only reported in 2009.
Orhii said NAFDAC is continuing its public awareness campaign, using posters and the media to enlighten people on the danger of using the drug.
The agency is also trying to clean up the import and distribution of chemical products in Nigeria, he said.
So far over 5,000 bottles of the drug have been removed from the market, but it is not yet clear how many bottles were produced from the tainted batch, and whether any were exported outside Nigeria by small-scale traders.
Fake and adulterated drugs are not uncommon in Nigeria. In 1990, 109 children died after taking paracetamol laced with a compound similar to diethylene glycol and also used in engine coolants.
Nigeria is suing the US drug maker Pfizer after 11 children are alleged to have died and 189 others to have suffered handicaps or deformities after undergoing a meningitis vaccine test in 1996.