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After Gambia and Uzbekistan cough syrup row, WHO urges action to protect children from contaminated medicines

Since these are not isolated incidents WHO calls on various key stakeholders engaged in the medical supply chain to take immediate and coordinated action, WHO stated.

After Gambia and Uzbekistan cough syrup row, WHO urges action to protect children from contaminated medicines
Based on country reports, WHO has issued three global medical alerts addressing these incidents. (File)

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday released an urgent call to action to countries to prevent, detect and respond to incidents of substandard and falsified medical products.

“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). 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,” the global health agency stated on Tuesday.

Based on country reports, WHO has issued three global medical alerts addressing these incidents. Medical Product Alert issued on 5 October 2022 focused on the outbreak in the Gambia, Medical Product Alert issued on 6 November 2022 focused on Indonesia, and Medical Product Alert issued on 11 January 2023 focused on Uzbekistan.

Since these are not isolated incidents WHO called on various key stakeholders engaged in the medical supply chain to take immediate and coordinated action, it added.

WHO 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 global health agency also ensured that all medical products in their respective markets are approved for sale by competent authorities and obtainable from authorised or licensed suppliers.

WHO also emphasised 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.

In addition, WHO will continue to work with the Member State Mechanism on substandard and falsified medical products in implementing its mandate to promote effective collaboration in the prevention, detection and response to substandard and falsified medical products to save lives, it added.

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First published on: 24-01-2023 at 11:19 IST