WHO demands action following cough syrup deaths

Streaming HUBJanuary 24, 2023

The World Health Organization has called for “urgent and concerted action” to protect children from tainted drugs after the death of children linked to cough syrup last year.

In 2022, more than 300 children — mainly under the age of 5 — in The Gambia, Indonesia and Uzbekistan will die from kidney injury linked to contaminated drugs, the WHO said in a statement on Monday.

Over-the-counter cough syrups contained high levels of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol.

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“These contaminants are toxic chemicals used as industrial solvents and antifreeze agents, which can be fatal even in small amounts and should never be found in medicines,” the WHO said.

As well as the above countries, the WHO told Reuters on Monday that the Philippines, Timor Leste, Senegal and Cambodia could potentially be affected because they may have the drugs on sale. It called for action across its 194 member states to prevent more deaths.

India's Marion Biotech was one of several drug companies distributing drugs linked to the recent global spike in child deaths.

India’s Marion Biotech was one of several drug companies distributing drugs linked to the recent global spike in child deaths.
(Reuters/Anushree Fadnavis)

“As these are not isolated incidents, WHO calls for urgent and coordinated action by various key stakeholders engaged in the medical supply chain,” WHO said.

The WHO has already sent specific product alerts to pull the drug from shelves in October and earlier this month for cough syrup made by India’s Maiden Pharmaceuticals and Marion Biotech, which have been linked to deaths in Gambia and Uzbekistan, respectively .

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It also issued warnings last year for cough syrups made by four Indonesian manufacturers, PT Yarindo Pharmatama, PT Universal Pharmaceutical, PT Konimex and PT AFI Pharma, that were sold domestically.

The companies involved have either denied that their products were contaminated or declined to comment while the investigation is ongoing.

The WHO reiterated its call for the above products to be removed from circulation, and more broadly for countries to ensure that any drug for sale is approved by the competent authorities. It also asked governments and regulators to inspect manufacturers, increase market surveillance and allocate resources to take action where necessary.

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It called on manufacturers to buy raw materials only from qualified suppliers, test their products more thoroughly and keep records of the process. The WHO said that suppliers and distributors should check for signs of falsification and only distribute or sell medicines authorized for use.

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