The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday urged for “immediate and concerted action” to protect children from contaminated medicines after child deaths were reported last year linked to cough syrups.
In 2022, more than 300 children, the majority of them below five years, in Gambia, Indonesia, and Uzbekistan died of acute kidney injury, in deaths that were associated with contaminated medicines, news agency Reuters reported citing WHO. The cough syrups available over-the-counter had high levels of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol, the WHO said in a statement.
“These contaminants are toxic chemicals used as industrial solvents and antifreeze agents that can be fatal even taken in small amounts, and should never be found in medicines,” the WHO said.
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According to Reuters, the WHO also said that the Philippines, Timor Leste, Senegal, and Cambodia may potentially be impacted because they may have the medicines on sale. The global health body called for action across its 194 member states to prevent more deaths.
“Since these are not isolated incidents, WHO calls on various key stakeholders engaged in the medical supply chain to take immediate and coordinated action,” WHO said.
In its alert in October and January, the WHO already asked for specific products to be removed from the shelves. It warned against cough syrups made by India’s Maiden Pharmaceuticals and Marion Biotech, which are linked with deaths in Gambia and Uzbekistan respectively.
It also issued a warning last year for cough syrups made by four Indonesian manufacturers, PT Yarindo Farmatama, PT Universal Pharmaceutical, PT Konimex, and PT AFI Pharma, that were sold domestically.
Meanwhile, In December, India said the “unfortunate deaths” of 18 children in Uzbekistan after allegedly consuming cough syrups manufactured by India and the incident in Gambia were “not similar” and Tashkent has not formally raised the matter with New Delhi.
Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said the Indian Embassy had contacted the Uzbekistan government to ascertain “further details” on the matter. “We understand legal action has been initiated by the Uzbek authorities against some people, including the local representative of the company there and on that context we are extending necessary consular assistance to those individuals or individual,” he added.
(With inputs from Reuters)