February 8, 2023 6:34 am


Gambia Drug Controversy: Bacteria Related Deaths & WHO Double Standards

WHO has not yet confirmed that these syrups made by the Haryana-based pharmaceutical company are the exact reason for the deaths

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WHO accuses Indian drugs

The World Health Organisation on 5 October issued a warning against Indian drugs, terming them as one of the reasons behind death of more than 60 children in Gambia in Africa. The other reason for the deaths includes infection from E. Coli bacteria.

However, WHO has not yet fully confirmed that this syrup made by the Haryana-based pharmaceutical company is the exact reason for the deaths.

Indian Drugs
Warning issued by WHO

Gambian Ambassador- Not clear if syrups are the main cause

To get the version of Gambia, The Pamphlet contacted the Gambian High Commission in New Delhi. The Pamphlet asked if the syrups were the leading cause behind the deaths of several children. 

The Gambian High Commissioner Mustapha Jawara stated that they are not sure if syrups are the prime cause behind these deaths as the investigation is still in progress. He added that he will only be able to give a proper comment once his government issues a public statement on these deaths.

At the same time, according to reports published in the local websites of The Gambia, another reason behind the sad deaths of children may be an infection from a bacteria named E. Coli. This bacteria causes diseases like diarrhea.

China- From selling spurious medicines to labelling them as ‘Make in India’

China, despite being the leading drug manufacturer does not enjoy credibility like the Indian pharma industry around the globe. 

News regarding the sale of counterfeit drugs by China with the tag of 'Made in India'
News regarding the sale of counterfeit drugs by China with the tag of ‘Made in India’

China has been accused of selling counterfeit and substandard medicines in poor African countries. A 2008 research concluded that China is partly to be blamed for the manufacture of counterfeit medicines.

According to a report published in the National Medical Library, under the US Department of Health, In June 2009, China sold more than 6 lakh spurious anti-malarial tablets to Nigeria by labelling them as Made in India.

According to Dr. Paul Orhii, head of Nigeria’s anti-counterfeit drug agency NAFDAC, “the drug traded by a gang was a counterfeit of an Indian antimalarial drug called Lonart DS. The proper drug is made by Bliss GVS Pharma Ltd, of Mumbai”.

A story published in The Guardian on 23 December 2012
A story published in The Guardian on 23 December 2012

India registered a strong protest against this Chinese practice on diplomatic levels. 

In another incident, 81 people died in the USA and hundreds were victims of allergies due to consuming contaminated drugs. Chinese suppliers were under probe for supplying these medicines.

According to a report published in The Guardian in December 2012, a third of malarial drugs in African countries were counterfeit. Most of these drugs were supplied from either China or India. It is evident that China has been using the name of India for selling drugs in the African region.

A report published in The Atlantic also mentions that 1.2 million doses of a drug used for fever & headache called Aspirin were seized in France. These counterfeit medicines were to be sold in Africa.

The drug counterfeiting industry has boomed in China in the past due to absence of any severe measures to curb this illicit trade. 

Indian pharma holds much credibility in US & Europe

The Indian Pharma Sector is highly acclaimed throughout the world for high-quality generic drugs, which are also easily affordable at the same time.

If we look at the statistics of the pharma industry around the globe, India has the largest number of pharmaceutical manufacturing units in accordance with regulations of the US Drug Regulatory Agency -FDA. 

US drug regulatory agency FDA.
US drug regulatory agency FDA.

According to data from India’s pharmaceutical regulatory agency CDSCO, currently, there are 865 pharmaceutical factories in India with FDA approval. America is also the largest buyer of India’s generic drugs.

During the year 2019-20, 34% of the medicines exported by India were exported to the continent of North America which amounts to about 7 billion dollars. At the same time, India exported medicines worth 3 billion dollars to the EU nations. 

European countries are the third largest buyers of medicines from India.

Contribution of Indian Pharma Sector to Global Health

India being a developing nation understands the challenges faced by low-income countries. 

India is almost self-reliant in drug manufacturing for domestic consumption. This capability of making sufficient drugs for self and the world has led to India becoming a major exporter of medicines around the globe. 

India exports medicines to more than 200 countries in the world, making it the third-largest exporter of medicines in the world by volume. 

According to a report by the Indian Brand Equity Foundation, India’s pharmaceutical market was worth $42 billion in the year 2021, which will grow to $130 billion by the end of this decade. India exported medicines worth 17 billion dollars in 2016 which reached 25 billion dollars in 2021.

IBEF Report on Indian Pharma Industry
IBEF Report on Indian Pharma Industry

Presently there are more than 3000 pharmaceutical companies in India and more than 10,000 pharmaceutical manufacturing units producing drugs day and night. 

The countries of North America, Africa, the European Union, Latin America and the Middle East are the biggest buyers of India’s medicines. India exports 20% of generic medicines in the world. 

The Indian government is constantly trying to bring more investment into this sector through its schemes like PLI and Make In India.

Apart from this, India is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer and produces more than 60% of vaccines in the world. 

Vaccine Maitri

India has been supplying vaccines extensively all over the world since the Covid-19 pandemic. 

As a token of friendship, India supplied free or affordable vaccines to many poor countries. South Asian nations such as Bhutan and Nepal lauded India for supplying vaccines at the recently held 77th session of UNGA in New York.

According to a report from the Ministry of External Affairs, India has so far supplied more than 200 million vaccines all over the world.

Differences in the WHO warnings

As The Pamphlet analysed the past warnings issued by the WHO before the Indian syrup case, we found a certain difference.

The warning issued on October 5 mentions the name of the manufacturer as well as the state and country in which this drug is made.

Double standards in warnings issued by WHO
Double standards in warnings issued by WHO

In the earlier warnings, regarding counterfeit or substandard medicines, only the name of the medicine has been mentioned. 

For example, a drug called Diprivan, confiscated in South America in August this year, was manufactured by England’s AstraZeneca. In WHO’s warning, we did not find any mention of England.

While it is imperative for the Indian administration to implement strict drug regulations, one cannot shy away from the fact that the Indian pharma industry has had several resentful eyes on it for years.

Arpit Tripathi
Arpit Tripathi

Awadhi living in the hills of Garhwal

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