The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for “immediate and concerted action” after the deaths of more than 300 children linked to contaminated cough syrup last year.
In 2022, more than 300 children from Gambia, Indonesia and Uzbekistan – who were mostly under the age of five – died of acute kidney injury, in deaths associated with contaminated drugs, the WHO said.
The over-the-counter drugs contained high levels of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol, the WHO warning added.
“These contaminants are toxic chemicals used as industrial solvents and antifreeze agents that can be deadly even when taken in small amounts, and should never be found in medications,” the organization said.
The Philippines, Timor Leste, Senegal and Cambodia also have drugs on sale and could be affected, Reuters reported.
The WHO has called for action in its 194 member states to prevent more deaths.
“Since these are not isolated incidents, the WHO calls on the various key players involved in the medical supply chain to take immediate and coordinated action,” its experts said on Monday.
WHO has already sent product-specific alerts in October, November and Januaryasking that certain “substandard products” be withdrawn from circulation to “avoid harm to patients”.
The alerts concerned certain cough syrups made by Indian companies Maiden Pharmaceuticals and Marion Biotech, as well as similar drugs made by four Indonesian manufacturers – PT Yarindo Farmatama, PT Universal Pharmaceutical, PT Konimex and PT AFI Pharma – which were sold on the indoor market.
The companies involved have either denied their products were contaminated or declined to comment while investigations are ongoing.
Medicinal syrup ingredients may be linked to child deaths in Indonesia
Uzbekistan links 18 child deaths to India cough syrup
But the WHO reiterated its call for the products to be withdrawn from circulation and urged countries to ensure that all drugs on sale are approved by the relevant authorities.
He also asked governments and regulators to allocate resources to inspect manufacturers, increase market surveillance and take action if necessary.
While manufacturers should only buy raw ingredients from qualified suppliers, test their products more thoroughly and keep records of the process, the WHO added.
The WHO also said suppliers and distributors should check for signs of tampering and only distribute or sell drugs that are authorized for use.