WHO warns of contaminated cough syrups that have killed more than 300 children

The global health agency called on countries to “prevent, detect and respond” to incidents of contaminated medical products that put consumers at grave risk.

The WHO is calling for action in 194 countries. (Photo credit: Getty Images).

The World Health Organization issued a statement on Monday warning of contaminated over-the-counter cough syrups that have resulted in more than 300 fatalities around the world, primarily affecting children under the age of five.

The WHO stated that it has been following both confirmed and suspected cases of falsified medical products across at least seven countries that have been contaminated with high levels of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol

These chemicals are toxic and are commonly used as industrial solvents or antifreeze and can be lethal if ingested in even small quantities, the agency warned. 

Contaminated cough syrup from Indian manufacturers has been a concern for public health officials since reports started to emerge in October linking the toxic product to the deaths of nearly 70 children in Gambia. 

Scrutiny quickly centered on four cough and cold medicines produced by Maiden Pharmaceuticals, though Indian health officials pushed back on the WHO’s allegations of product contamination.

For its part, the global health agency has released three global medical alerts regarding these contamination incidents in Gambia, dozens in November in Indonesia and 18 earlier this month in Uzbekistan

The product in question in the most recent contamination case is Dok-1 Max syrup produced by Marion Biotech, a company based in Uttar Pradesh, India. Following the first reports of Uzbek deaths last month, the Pharmaceutical Export Promotion Council of India suspended the registration certificate of Marion.

Now, the WHO is calling on 194 member nations to “prevent, detect and respond” to incidents of contaminated medical products that put consumers at grave risk.

“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 statement read. 

As the agency does not consider these to be isolated incidents, health regulators around the globe are urged to remove specific substandard medical products from the market and boost both risk-based inspections of manufacturing sites and risk-based targeted testing.

Similarly, the WHO has called on drug manufacturers to only purchase “pharmaceutical grade excipients” from “qualified and bona fide suppliers, while pressing distributors to be on the lookout for signs of falsification.

This story first appeared on mmm-online.com. 

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