Cough syrup made by Noida Based firm Marion Biotech killed 18 children in Uzbekistan

The Health Ministry of Uzbekistan on Tuesday said 18 children, with acute respiratory disease, have died from taking excessive doses of a cough syrup, Doc-1 Max, manufactured by Marion Biotech, an Indian firm.

Preliminary investigation showed the syrup made by the Noida-based company contains ethylene glycol, a toxic substance, the country’s health ministry said.

After the Gambia incident, Uzbekistan Health Ministry has now claimed that 18 children have died after consuming cough syrup manufactured by Noida-based Marion Biotech.

The allegations come months after the Gambia leveled similar allegations holding made-in-India cough syrups responsible for the deaths of 66 children.

The Union Health Ministry sources did not respond to queries on the incident. However, they maintained that a file was placed before Health Minister Manuskh Mandaviya, who also heads the Department of Pharmaceuticals as the Minister for Chemicals and Fertilisers. Noida-based Marion Biotech also did not respond to this news.

Uzbekistan said tablets and syrups of Doc-1 Max had been withdrawn from sales across pharmacies in the country. 

Following the World Health Organisation’s (WHO’s) warning on October 5, linking four syrups to the deaths in The Gambia, Maiden Pharma’s export license has been suspended. 

However, India has said that the WHO has drawn a “premature link” between the deaths of the children and the India-made cough syrups.

India has launched a probe into the matter and the manufacturing of the cough syrup has been halted at the Noida unit of the pharmaceutical company until the samples are tested.

Marion Biotech also exports drugs to the United Kingdom, Georgia, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.

The health ministry says preliminary laboratory studies have shown that Doc-1 Max syrup contains ethylene glycol, which according to health experts is a central nervous system depressant that can cause serious or fatal toxicity.

Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said the samples have been sent to Regional Drugs Testing Laboratory in Chandigarh for testing and that the government would “initiate further action based on the inspection report.”

The World Health Organisation in October flagged the presence of ethylene glycol and diethylene glycol (DG) as toxic contaminants in four cough syrup samples (made by Maiden Pharmaceuticals, Haryana) that are reportedly linked to the deaths of 70 children in The Gambia. 

But this was not the first time EG and DEG were found in cough syrups made in India, as there have been many similar cases in the past with fatal consequences. 

Mr. Mandaviya said the Centre is in touch with Uzbekistan since December 27. 

It is also noted that the syrup was given to children without a doctor’s prescription.

A joint inquiry is being conducted by the teams of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO – north zone) and Uttar Pradesh Drugs Controlling and Licensing Authority. 

The WHO had earlier said that laboratory analysis of Maiden cough syrup had confirmed “unacceptable” amounts of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol, which can be toxic and lead to acute kidney injury.

Responding to WHO, Drugs Controller General, VG Somani, had said that tests on samples of Maiden’s products at government laboratories had “been found to be complying with specifications” and no toxic substance was detected in them.

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