WHO issues alerts as contaminated cough syrups kill 300 children

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has alerted countries to prevent, detect and respond to incidents of substandard and falsified medical products as contaminated cough syrups kill 300 children in at least three countries.

“Over the past four months, countries have reported on several incidents of over-the-counter cough syrups for children with confirmed or suspected contamination with high levels of diethylene glycol (DEG) and ethylene glycol (EG),” WHO said in a statement.

“The cases are from at least seven countries, associated with more than 300 fatalities in three of these countries. Most are young children under the age of five. These contaminants are toxic chemicals used as industrial solvents and antifreeze agents that can be fatal even taken in small amounts, and should never be found in medicines.”

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WHO has since issued three global medical alerts addressing these outbreaks in The Gambia, Indonesia, and Uzbekistan.

“WHO’s medical product alerts were rapidly disseminated to the national health authorities of all 194 WHO Member States.

“These medical product alerts requested, inter alia: (a) the detection and removal of contaminated medicines from circulation in the markets, (b) increased surveillance and diligence within the supply chains of countries and regions likely to be affected, (c) immediate notification to WHO if these substandard products are discovered in-country; and otherwise inform the public of the dangers and toxic effects of the substandard medicines at issue.

WHO called on various key stakeholders engaged in the medical supply chain to take immediate and coordinated action.

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WHO further called on regulators and governments to detect and remove from circulation in their respective markets any substandard medical products that have been identified in the WHO medical alerts referred to above as potential causes of deaths and disease.

The body also urged manufacturers of medicines to only purchase pharmaceutical grade excipients from qualified and bona fide suppliers; and conduct comprehensive testing upon receipt of supplies and before use in manufacture of finished products, amongst others.


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