Warning Issued Over Lethal Contaminated Cough Syrup

WHO is urging nations worldwide to remove a cough syrup that has killed more than 300 children from circulation
People buy medicines at a pharmacy in Phnom Penh, January 24, 2023. Kiripost/Siv Channa
People buy medicines at a pharmacy in Phnom Penh, January 24, 2023. Kiripost/Siv Channa

WHO has put out an urgent call for an over-the-counter cough syrup that has caused more than 300 deaths worldwide to be pulled from shelves.

In the last four months, at least seven countries have reported incidents where children’s cough syrup has been contaminated with high levels of diethylene glycol (DEG) and ethylene glycol (EG).

These contaminants are toxic chemicals used as industrial solvents and antifreeze agents. They can be fatal, even if taken in small amounts, and should not be found in medicine.

This has led to the death of more than 300 children in three countries. Most are under the age of five, according to WHO. In response, WHO has issued three global medical alerts in Gambia, Indonesia and Uzbekistan.

Now, the organisation is calling on all countries worldwide to detect and remove all contaminated medicine from the market and notify WHO if any contaminants are found.

“Since these are not isolated incidents WHO calls on various key stakeholders engaged in the medical supply chain to take immediate and coordinated action,” WHO said in a statement.

Earlier this month, the Ministry of Health issued a press release warning that Ambronol Syrup, manufactured by Marion Biotech PVT. Ltd in India, contained excessive amounts of Ambroxol Hydrochloride.

In a statement, the Ministry said, “DEG and EG in excess of the standard can cause serious harm to children, such as abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty urinating, headache, mood swings, and may also cause acute renal failure which can be fatal.”

It also ordered the recall of Ambronol Syrup with lot number AAS2203, imported by Quramax (Cambodia) Limited. All hospitals, clinics and other health services were ordered to stop using the drug.

WHO is now urging governments globally to remove any substandard medical products it has identified in its medical alerts from circulation and increase market surveillance to stamp out potentially lethal medicine.

It is also calling on medicine manufacturers to only purchase pharmaceutical grade medicines from qualified suppliers and carry out comprehensive testing. While suppliers of medical products are being ordered to check for signs of falsification and only distribute medicines that are authorised by and from sources approved by competent authorities.

“In addition, WHO will continue to work with the Member State Mechanism on substandard and falsified medical products in implementing its mandate to promote effective collaboration in the prevention, detection and response to substandard and falsified medical products to save lives,” the statement said.