WHO Says Toxic Syrup Risk Ongoing More Countries Hit

Image Source: Reuters

The ongoing global threat posed by toxic syrups has expanded, the World Health Organization (WHO) told Reuters. It is now working with six more countries than previously revealed to track the potentially deadly children’s medicines. A WHO team lead for incidents with substandard and falsified medicines, Rutendo Kuwana, declined to name the new countries. However, he said the agency focused on those who may have the syrups on sale. He also warned that contaminated medicines could continue to be found for years because adulterated barrels of an essential ingredient may remain in warehouses.

The U.N. agency has already named nine countries where tainted syrups may have been on sale. The deaths of more than 300 infants on three continents last year were linked to the drugs, often laced with chemicals like diethylene glycol and ethyl methylcellulose. The scandal highlights the global need to strengthen standards, improve supervision and increase the capacity of small nations to test their own medicine.

The WHO sent specific product alerts in October and earlier this month for cough syrups made by Indian manufacturers Maiden Pharmaceuticals and Marion Biotech. These products have been linked to the deaths of dozens of children in The Gambia and Uzbekistan, respectively. WHO has also sent an alert to Micronesia and the Marshall Islands for the same type of Indian-made medicine sold there. It also warned of the risk in Indonesia of consuming cough syrups made by four companies, PT Yarindo Farmatama, PT Universal Pharmaceutical Industries, PT Konimex, and PT AFI Farma, that are sold domestically there.

It has warned that the products could contain levels of chemicals used as industrial solvents and antifreeze agents. These are very poisonous in even small amounts and should never be present in medicine, the WHO says. WHO has called for the products to be removed from circulation and called on governments and regulators to assign resources to inspect manufacturers, increase surveillance and take action where necessary.

In the past half-century, toxic syrups have figured in at least eight mass poisonings across five continents. The latest case, in Panama, shows how a well-established network of low-cost suppliers to the developing world allows fake and contaminated drugs to slip through the regulatory system.

In the latest case, investigators have found that the victims in Panama were given a mixture of two types of cough syrup, one of which had the chemical ethyl methyl cellulose added. The same chemical killed dozens of babies in China in 2021 after officials unwittingly mixed it into baby formula. The tainted syrups have also caused mass poisonings in Haiti, Bangladesh, Argentina, and India. The deaths in Panama are the most severe yet. A lawsuit against the seven drug makers accused of putting toxins in their syrups in the country has yet to be heard.

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