Pills linked to the deaths of more than a dozen women who visited a sterilization camp in India are likely to have contained a chemical compound commonly used in rat poison, two senior officials in Chhattisgarh state said yesterday.
Preliminary tests of the antibiotic ciprocin pills were found to contain zinc phosphide, said Siddhartha Pardeshi, chief administrator for the Bilaspur district.
The antibiotics were handed out at the mass sterilization held a week ago in the impoverished state. At least 15 women have died, most of whom had attended the camp.
Authorities tested the pills after being told that zinc phosphide was found at the nearby factory of Mahawar Pharmaceuticals, the firm at the center of investigations into the deaths at the government-run family planning camp, Pardeshi and Chhattisgarh Health Minister Amar Agarwal said.
Samples of the drugs have been sent to laboratories in Delhi and Kolkata to verify that they were contaminated as the preliminary report suggested, Pardeshi said.
“But, this is what we anticipate,” he said. “Symptoms shown by the patients also conform with zinc phosphide (poisoning).”
Mahawar, run from an upscale residential street in state capital Raipur, had been barred from manufacturing medicines for 90 days in 2012 after it was found in to have produced sub-standard drugs, but it did not lose its license.
An investigation is now underway into why the drugs were bought locally when there was enough stock of the medicine with the state’s central procurement agency, Agarwal said.
“There was no incentive to procure locally so we need to investigate why it was done. This means something is wrong,” he said.
More possible victims arrived at hospitals from villages on Thursday and Friday, some clutching medicine strips from Mahawar and complaining of vomiting, dizziness and swelling, a doctor at the district’s main public hospital said on Friday
The new patients had not attended the sterilization camps, but had consumed the drugs separately, the doctor and another official said.
The state government said it had seized 200,000 ciprocin 500 pills and over 4 million others made by Mahawar.
Police have arrested Ramesh Mahawar, the firm’s managing director, and his son.
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