WHO urges ‘immediate action’ after cough syrup deaths

LONDON, January 23. (Reuters) – The World Health Organization called for “immediate and concerted action” to protect children from contaminated medicines after a spate of child deaths linked to cough syrups last year.

in 2022 more than 300 children, mostly under the age of 5, have died of acute kidney injury in Gambia, Indonesia and Uzbekistan, deaths linked to contaminated drugs, the WHO said in a statement on Monday.

The medication, over-the-counter cough syrups, contained high levels of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol.

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

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In addition to the countries mentioned above, the WHO told Reuters on Monday that the Philippines, East Timor, Senegal and Cambodia could be affected because they can sell the drug. It called for action in all 194 member states to prevent more deaths.

“As these are not isolated incidents, WHO calls on the various key stakeholders involved in the medical supply chain to take immediate and coordinated action,” WHO said.

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The WHO already sent product-specific warnings in October and earlier this month asking for the drugs to be pulled from the shelves over cough syrups made by India’s Maiden Pharmaceuticals and Marion Biotech, which have been linked to deaths in Gambia and Uzbekistan, respectively.

Last year, it also issued a warning over cough syrups made by four Indonesian manufacturers PT Yarindo Farmatama, PT Universal Pharmaceutical, PT Konimex and PT AFI Pharma that were sold domestically.

The companies involved either denied their products were contaminated or declined to comment pending investigations.

The WHO reiterated its call for the withdrawal of the above products from circulation and more broadly urged countries to ensure that all medicines sold are approved by competent authorities. It also asked governments and regulators to allocate resources to inspect manufacturers, strengthen market surveillance and take action where necessary.

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

Reporting by Jennifer Rigby; Edited by Mark Heinrich and Christina Fincher

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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