WHO issues alert over Indian cough syrups linked to child deaths in Uzbekistan

Products contained high amounts of antifreeze and brake fluid chemicals, UN health agency says

Indian officials have suspended the licence of drug maker Marion Biotech. EPA
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The World Health Organisation has issued an alert over two cough syrups made in India after they were linked to the deaths of children in Uzbekistan.

The global health body said the Ambronol and DOK-1 Max syrups made by Marion Biotech were found to contain "unacceptable amounts of diethylene glycol and /or ethylene glycol as contaminants".

Tests were completed by the national quality control laboratories of the Uzbek Ministry of Health.

"The stated manufacturer has not provided guarantees to WHO on the safety and quality of these products," the WHO said.

Uzbek authorities said last month that at least 19 children died after taking the cough syrups. They said the medicines were administered by parents on the advice of pharmacists and not on a doctor's prescription. Doses of 2.5ml to 5ml, given three to four times a day, exceeded the recommended amount for children.

India’s Health Ministry said it immediately inspected the Marion Biotech plant in Noida, near the capital Delhi, and halted production of the medicines.

The contaminants detected in the syrups are used in the preparation of antifreeze, brake fluid, cigarettes, paints and dyes, plastics, films and cosmetics.

They can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, inability to pass urine, headaches, altered mental state and acute kidney injury which may lead to death, according to the WHO.

Officials at Noida’s Food Safety and Drug Administration said all drug production at Marion Biotech had stopped and the company's licence suspended.

“It has been a week since we suspended Marion’s licence,” Dinesh Tiwari, Noida's assistant commissioner for food safety and drug administration, told The National. "They don’t have permission to make any drug while the investigation is under way."

“We have collected samples and sent them to a lab but are waiting for the test report."

This is the second time in months that the WHO has issued an alert over medicinal syrups made in India that have been linked to child deaths.

On October 5, the agency said four cough and cold syrups made by Maiden Pharmaceuticals, based in India's Haryana state, were found to contain "unacceptable amounts of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol as contaminants".

Authorities in Gambia said 70 children as young as five months died of acute kidney failure after taking the syrups.

Indian authorities said in December that their analysis of Maiden's cough syrups found them to be of “standard quality”.

Updated: January 12, 2023, 8:31 AM