LONDON, Jan. 23 (Reuters) – The World Health Organization has called for “immediate and coordinated action” to protect children from contaminated medicines following a spate of child deaths from cough syrups last year.
In 2022, more than 300 children – mainly under the age of 5 – in The Gambia, Indonesia and Uzbekistan died from acute kidney injury, deaths linked to contaminated medicines, the WHO said in a statement Monday.
The medications, over-the-counter cough syrups, contain high levels of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol.
“These contaminants are toxic chemicals used as industrial solvents and antifreezes that can be fatal even in small amounts and should never be found in medicines,” the WHO said.
As well as the countries mentioned above, the WHO told Reuters on Monday that the Philippines, East Timor, Senegal and Cambodia could potentially be affected as they may have the drugs on sale. It called for action in its 194 member states to prevent more deaths.
“As these are not isolated incidents, WHO is calling on several key stakeholders in the medical supply chain to take immediate and coordinated action,” the WHO said.
The WHO already issued specific product alerts in October and earlier this month, asking for the drugs to be withdrawn from shelves, for cough syrups made by India’s Maiden Pharmaceuticals and Marion Biotech, which have been linked to deaths in The Gambia and Uzbekistan, respectively.
It also issued a warning last year for cough syrups made by four Indonesian manufacturers, PT Yarindo Farmatama, PT Universal Pharmaceutical, PT Konimex and PT AFI Pharma, sold domestically.
The companies involved have either denied that their products are contaminated or declined to comment while the investigation is ongoing.
The WHO reiterated its call for the products marked above to be withdrawn from circulation, calling on countries to ensure that all medicines for sale are approved by the appropriate authorities. It also asked governments and regulators to allocate resources to inspect manufacturers, strengthen market surveillance and take action where necessary.
It called on manufacturers to only buy raw ingredients from qualified suppliers, test their products more thoroughly and keep track of the process. Suppliers and distributors must check for signs of counterfeiting and only distribute or sell medicines that have been approved for use, the WHO added.
Reporting by Jennifer Rigby; Edited by Mark Heinrich and Christina Fincher
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.