LONDON, Jan 23 (Reuters) – The World Health Organization has called for “immediate and concerted action” to protect children from contaminated medicines after child deaths linked to cough syrups last year.
In 2022, more than 300 children, mostly under the age of 5, died in Gambia, Indonesia and Uzbekistan from acute kidney injury, deaths linked to contaminated drugs, the WHO said in a statement on Monday.
The drugs, 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, can be fatal even in small amounts, and should never be found in medicines,” the WHO said.
As well as the countries above, WHO told Reuters on Monday that the Philippines, East Timor, Senegal and Cambodia could be potentially affected because they may have the drugs on sale. It called on 194 member states to act 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.
The WHO issued specific product alerts in October and earlier this month for cough syrups made by India’s Maiden Pharmaceuticals and Marion Biotech, respectively, which have been linked to deaths in Gambia and Uzbekistan, asking for the drugs to be pulled from shelves.
It also issued a warning last year for cough syrups produced and sold domestically by four Indonesian manufacturers, PT Yarindo Farmatama, PT Universal Pharmaceutical, PT Konimex and PT AFI Pharma.
The companies involved either denied their products were contaminated or declined to comment while investigations are ongoing.
WHO has reiterated its call for the withdrawal of the above-mentioned products and more broadly called on countries to ensure that medicines on sale are approved by competent authorities. It also asked governments and regulators to commit resources to inspect manufacturers, increase market surveillance and take action where necessary.
He called on manufacturers to buy raw ingredients only from qualified suppliers, test their products more thoroughly and keep process records. WHO added that suppliers and distributors should check for signs of counterfeiting and distribute or sell only authorized drugs.
Reporting by Jennifer Rigby; Edited by Mark Heinrich and Christina Fincher
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