WHO urges action after cough syrup deaths

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The World Health Organization is investigating whether there is a link between manufacturers of contaminated cough syrups it has linked to the deaths of more than 300 children in three countries.

Citing “unacceptable levels” of toxins in the products, WHO is seeking more information on the specific raw materials used by six manufacturers in India and Indonesia to produce drugs linked to the recent deaths, and whether the companies have obtained from some of the same suppliers, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The WHO has not named any suppliers.

The WHO is also considering advising families worldwide to reassess the use of cough syrups for children in general, while questions about the safety of some of these products remain unresolved, the person said.

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WHO experts are evaluating the evidence on whether, and when, such products are medically necessary for children, the person said.

Child deaths from acute kidney injury began in Gambia in July 2022, followed by cases in Indonesia and Uzbekistan.

The WHO has said the deaths are linked to over-the-counter cough syrups the children were taking for common illnesses that contain a known toxin, either diethylene glycol or ethylene glycol.

To date, WHO has identified six drug companies in India and Indonesia that produced the syrups.

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These manufacturers have declined to comment on the investigation or denied using contaminated materials that contributed to any deaths.

Reuters has no evidence of wrongdoing by the companies the WHO has named.

“This is our top priority, that there will be no more child deaths from something so preventable,” said WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris, without commenting further on the details of the organization’s work.

The United Nations health agency said Monday it had expanded its investigation into possible diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol contamination in cough syrups to four additional countries where the same products might be on sale: Cambodia, the Philippines, East Timor and Senegal.

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It called on other governments and the global pharmaceutical industry to implement urgent controls to stamp out substandard drugs and improve regulation.

The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) said in an emailed statement Tuesday that its members are “already doing what the WHO calls for,” in accordance with national and international guidelines.

The WHO is expected to comment further on the cough syrup situation at a press conference later on Tuesday.

—Reuters

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