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WHO Confirms Toxic Cough Syrup Affects 9 More Countries, over 300 Children Died Worldwide

by Amélie Poulain

In 2022, the toxic cough syrup incident that shocked the world spread to 7 countries worldwide, killing more than 300 children. The dead children were mainly under 5 years old, and acute kidney injury was caused by poisoning. The incident does not seem to subside this year, and another 9 countries and regions are selling toxic syrup.

From the second half of 2022 to the beginning of this year, seven countries have successively reported adverse events of children’s cough syrup. (Photo via unsplash.com)

Taipei, Taiwan (Merxwire) – The poisonous cough syrup incident shocked the world in 2022. It spread to 7 countries worldwide and killed more than 300 children in countries such as Gambia, Indonesia, and Uzbekistan. Most of these children were under five, and acute kidney failure was caused by poisoning. However, the incident does not seem to subside this year. The crisis has spread to three continents and nine countries or regions are selling poisonous syrup.

In January this year, WHO received reports from seven countries including Gambia, Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Senegal, Timor-Leste, and Cambodia about adverse events caused by over-the-counter cough syrup for children. More than 300 children have died from the poisonous syrup. Rutendo Kuwana, head of the Prequalification of medicines quality control laboratories of WHO, has recently confirmed that nine more countries were threatened by the toxic syrup by June. They are currently working with six countries to track down the toxic cough syrup.

Cases of child deaths have been identified in part as a result of high concentrations of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol in the syrup. These unqualified raw materials may be due to the price increase of the qualified raw material propylene glycol in the syrup in 2021, so the unscrupulous manufacturers replaced propylene glycol with cheaper but toxic chemical components diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol. These two ingredients are not edible and cannot be added to medicines.

Diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol are commonly used in brake fluid and antifreeze in car radiators, and are not legal ingredients in cough syrup. Now it is used by unscrupulous manufacturers, causing serious poisoning incidents. Excessive diethylene glycol can cause liver damage, which is fatal. Consumption of ethylene glycol can cause dizziness, confusion, or excitement, which may lead to kidney failure. Experts remind everyone to pay attention to the problem of such inferior drugs, so as not to cause more casualties.

In fact, since 2001, the WHO has appealed because of the possible side effects of cough syrup, and it is not recommended for children under 5 years old to take it. In this incident, most of the victims were children under the age of 5, so the possible risk of children taking cold syrup should not be ignored. Some of the confirmed tainted syrup was made by Maiden Pharmaceuticals, an Indian pharmaceutical company, and killed several children in Gambia and Uzbekistan after it was sold last year. Three other Indonesian pharmaceutical companies had their licenses revoked for selling toxic syrups, and one of them recalled the problematic products.

WHO believes that in the next few years, it is still necessary to strengthen detection and remove problematic syrups to avoid endangering the health of more children. (Photo via unsplash.com)

Kuwana mentioned that there have been no serious cases in the nine countries or regions included in the risk range this time. It may be because the problematic syrup has been removed from the shelves, or the product has not yet entered the market or the poisoning cases have not been reported, so don’t take it lightly. Recently, the death of 6 children in Cameroon has attracted great attention. The contaminated syrup in the investigation was “Naturcold” cough syrup produced by Fraken Group in China, and the source of the toxic product is still being confirmed.

Although these incidents have entered the investigation stage, it is difficult to confirm the quantity of contaminated syrup and the market flow because the upstream raw material supply chain is unknown. In addition, the shelf life of cough syrup and fake propylene glycol is two years, and it may not be distributed on the market yet. Therefore, there will still be a risk of toxic syrup in the next few years, which cannot be ignored. Therefore, WHO recommends that countries strengthen detection and remove suspicious products from shelves to prevent more serious harm.

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