Poisonous Medicine in Nigeria

The New York Times reported today that at least 84 have been killed and many more have been made sick by a medicine called ‘My Pikin Baby Teething Mixture’ that was tainted with the industrial solvent diethylene glycol. Diethylene glycol is also used in antifreeze and brake fluid.

Diethylene glycol has figured in mass poisoning cases across the globe. In Panama, 365 people were killed after taking medicine inadvertently tainted with the chemical in a government factory in 2006. The sweet but deadly syrup was labeled glycerin, but it was in fact diethylene glycol from a factory in China. Dozens of children in Haiti died a decade ago after taking contaminated medicine for fevers. In 1990, 109 children died in Nigeria after taking medicine tainted with a similar compound.

Nigeria’s often lax enforcement of counterfeiting laws and its corruption-riddled bureaucracy left the country’s pharmacies full of tainted or fake drugs for decades. But since democratic rule returned in 1999, the government has been cracking down on makers of counterfeit or dangerous medicine.

This tragic case provides another example of how complex, and often harmful, our globalized economy can be. In the US, we have had to grapple with the question of how to deal with products tainted with harmful substances produced in China. Considering that it has been a struggle for the United States – with massive and powerful regulatory agencies – to guarantee safe imported foods, medicines, and toys, imagine how impossible it must be for a struggling (some may say corrupt) democracy such as Nigeria to guarantee safe products for its population. I think that this is another example of how the current global economic structure contributes to the harm of people living in poor countries.

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1 Response to “Poisonous Medicine in Nigeria”


  1. 1 Peter Luckow February 8, 2009 at 10:08 am

    Interesting article, Jon. These are important issues to keep in mind as we look to shift the balance away from the Western world being the main power holder in the production of pharmaceuticals. Its not just about encouraging local drug production in the developing world, but about helping to build safe and regulated drug industries targeted towards the world’s poor.


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Welcome to the Students for Global Health Equity (SGHE) blog. Published by university students, the SGHE blog seeks to explore news and issues related to global health.

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