Medscape: WHO Says Toxic Syrup Risk 'Ongoing,' More Countries Hit

23 June, 2023

[From Medscape. Read online: ]

WHO Says Toxic Syrup Risk 'Ongoing,' More Countries Hit

June 19, 2023

LONDON (Reuters) - There is an ongoing global threat posed by toxic cough syrups, the World Health Organization (WHO) told Reuters, saying it was now working with six more countries than previously revealed to track the potentially deadly children's medicines.

The U.N. agency has already named nine countries where tainted syrups may have been on sale, after the deaths of more than 300 infants on three continents last year were linked to the drugs.

Rutendo Kuwana, the WHO team lead for incidents with substandard and falsified medicines, declined to name the six new countries the agency is working with, while investigations are still underway.

He warned that contaminated medicines could still be found for several years, because adulterated barrels of an essential ingredient may remain in warehouses. Cough syrups and the ingredient, propylene glycol, both have shelf-lives of around two years.

"This is an ongoing risk," said Kuwana.

Unscrupulous actors sometimes substitute propylene glycol with toxic alternatives, ethylene glycol and diethylene glycol, because they are cheaper, several pharmaceutical manufacturing experts told Reuters.

The alternatives are more commonly used in brake fluid and other products not meant for human consumption.

The WHO's working theory is that in 2021, when prices of propylene glycol spiked, one or more suppliers mixed the cheaper toxic liquids with the legitimate chemical, Kuwana said. He did not say where the suppliers were based, and added that obscure supply chains have made proving this difficult.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers, including those alleged to have produced the tainted syrups that have been found so far, typically source ingredients from external suppliers.


Prof Joseph Ana

Lead Senior Fellow/ medical consultant.

Center for Clinical Governance Research & Patient Safety (ACCGR&PS) @ HRI GLOBAL

P: +234 (0) 8063600642


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