Following a series of child deaths connected to cough syrups last year, the World Health Organisation has called for urgent and concerted action to protect children from contaminated medicines.
More than 300 children, mostly under the age of five, died of acute renal damage in Gambia, Indonesia, and Uzbekistan in 2022, according to a WHO statement released on Monday. Over-the-counter cough syrups included significant quantities of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol.
“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.
In addition to the nations listed above, the WHO warned on Monday that the Philippines, Timor-Leste, Senegal, and Cambodia could be affected because the drugs are on the market. It urged its 194 member countries to take action to avert further tragedies.
“Since these are not isolated incidents, WHO calls on various key stakeholders engaged in the medical supply chain to take immediate and coordinated action,” the organisation stated.
The WHO has already issued specific product alerts in October and earlier this month, requesting that cough syrups manufactured by India’s Maiden Pharmaceuticals and Marion Biotech be removed off the market after being related to deaths in Gambia and Uzbekistan, respectively.
It also issued a warning last year for cough syrups distributed in Indonesia by four Indonesian producers, PT Yarindo Farmatama, PT Universal Pharmaceutical, PT Konimex, and PT AFI Pharma.
The WHO renewed its appeal for the removal of the aforementioned goods from circulation, as well as a broader request for governments to guarantee that any medicines for sale are approved by competent authorities. It also requested that governments and authorities allocate resources to investigate manufacturers, strengthen market surveillance, and take action as needed.
It urged firms to only purchase raw materials from qualified vendors, to test their products more carefully, and to keep detailed records of the process. The WHO noted that suppliers and distributors should look for signs of fabrication and only distribute or sell medications that have been approved for use.
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