World Health Organisation issues global alert over toxic cough syrup

The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a global alert for four cough syrups that it says contain ‘unacceptable amounts’ of chemicals that are toxic to humans.

The four products, Promethazine Oral Solution, Kofexmalin Baby Cough Syrup, Makoff Baby Cough Syrup and Magrip N Cold Syrup, were manufactured by Maiden Pharmaceuticals Limited, based in India.


The cough syrups contain unacceptable amounts of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol, which are toxic to humans. WHO said their use, especially in children, may result in serious injury or death.


The toxic effects can include abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, inability to pass urine, headache, altered mental state, and acute kidney injury which may lead to death.


The products have only been identified in The Gambia so far, but may have been distributed through informal markets to other countries or regions.


All batches of these products should be considered unsafe until they can be analysed by the relevant authorities, WHO said.


“If you have these substandard products, please do not use them,” a WHO spokesperson said.


“If you, or someone you know, have used these products or suffered any adverse reaction/event after use, you are advised to seek immediate medical advice from a qualified healthcare professional and report the incident to the National Regulatory Authority or National Pharmacovigilance Centre.”


The warning comes after The Gambia’s health officials recorded an increase in cases of acute kidney injury among children under the age of five in late July.


As cases mounted, doctors began to suspect medicines could be involved.


Gambia’s director of health services, Mustapha Bittaye, told Reuters that a number of patients began to fall ill with kidney problems three to five days after taking a paracetamol syrup sold locally.


Symptoms suffered by the children included an inability to pass urine and a fever that can within hours end in kidney failure.


“Dozens of children have died in the last three months,” Bittaye told Reuters. “Autopsies suggest the possibility of paracetamol.”