Bangladesh sentences six to jail for mixing toxic medicine that killed hundreds of children

A director of now closed BCI Bangladesh, Shahjahan Sarker (centre) appears in court in Dhaka on Aug 17. A Bangladesh court sentenced six senior employees to jail for making toxic paracetamol syrup that doctors say killed hundreds of children in the 1
A director of now closed BCI Bangladesh, Shahjahan Sarker (centre) appears in court in Dhaka on Aug 17. A Bangladesh court sentenced six senior employees to jail for making toxic paracetamol syrup that doctors say killed hundreds of children in the 1990s. PHOTO: AFP

DHAKA (AFP) - A Bangladesh court sentenced six senior employees of a drug company to jail on Monday for making toxic paracetamol syrup that doctors say killed hundreds of children in the 1990s, a prosecutor said.

Shahjahan Sarker, a director of the now-closed BCI Bangladesh, and five colleagues were handed 10 years in prison, the latest verdicts in the tragedy that saw children suffer kidney failure after drinking the syrup.

"They were given the penalties for adulterating paracetamol syrup used for babies," prosecutor Nadim Miah told AFP of the drug court's ruling in Dhaka.

However, only Sarker will be sent to jail. His five fellow directors and managers are still on the run after being charged in 2009 over the scandal that saw the medicine adulterated with diethylene glycol, commonly used in the leather industry.

The toxic solvent was used as a cheaper alternative to the safe propylene glycol, which is 10 times more expensive.

The tragedy was first exposed in the 1990s when doctors said hundreds of children died, forcing the government to crack down on the local drugs industry.

But dozens more children died in 2009 when the chemical was again discovered in paracetamol syrup.

Five local companies were originally implicated in the scandal, which one top paediatrician says dates back as far as the 1980s and could have killed as many as several thousand infants.

Three employees of Adflame Pharmaceutical Limited were jailed last year. But the trial of the six from BCI Bangladesh dragged for several years until Monday's verdict and sentence.

Dr Mohammed Hanif, a top paediatric nephrologist, has told AFP that local hospitals first started seeing children with kidney failure in late 1982. But it took another ten years to establish the deaths were due to diethylene glycol.

By then, Dr Hanif, who wrote an article in the British Medical Journal on the issue, says several thousand children had died.