Mysterious kidney disease kills 21 in Panama over high blood pressure medicine

Panamanian authorities say they suspect a medicine taken to treat high blood pressure may be among the factors leading to the deaths of 21 people since July who have succumbed to a mysterious illness that triggers kidney failure.

The 21st victim died either late Sunday or early Monday morning, said Panamanian public health official Rosario Turner said Monday. She did not specify the exact hour of death, or the age or gender of the patient, but said officials would release more details later.

On Friday, Panama's health minister stopped sales of the medication, Lisinopril Normon, and began removing it from pharmacy shelves. About 9,000 Panamanians take the medicine.

Authorities said they did not believe the medication had been tampered with.

The drug's Spanish manufacturer, generic drug maker Normon SA, issued a statement denying that its medicine was the cause of the illness and adding that there have been no problems in other countries where it is sold.

Panama's Attorney General, Rigoberto Gonzales, said authorities were also investigating whether the deaths could have been related to a combination of medicines.

Guillermo Endara, who served as Panama's president from 1989 to 1994, called for the resignation of the country's health minister, saying authorities were slow to react, reports AP.

"They left us in complete ignorance and unprotected for a significant period of time, cloaking this situation in a veil of secrecy and showing a complete lack of regard for human life," Endara said.

The illness thus far mostly has affected people older than 60. Other symptoms of the illness include vomiting, diarrhea and fever.