India-made cough syrup production suspended after deaths

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India has suspended production at a pharmaceutical company based near New Delhi whose cough syrup was linked to the death of 19 children in Uzbekistan, India’s health minister said on Friday.

Uzbekistan said this week that at least 18 children had died in the southeastern city of Samarkand after consuming Marion Biotech’s Dok-1 Max syrup. On Thursday, Uzbek media reported a 19th victim, a one-year-old child, in the nearby region of Qash-qadaryo.

Uzbekistan’s health ministry had said the syrup contained a toxic substance, ethylene glycol, and was administered in doses higher than the standard dose for children, either by their parents, who mistook it for an anti-cold remedy or on the advice of pharma-cists.

Indian Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said all production had been suspended at Marion Biotech’s unit in Noida, outside Delhi. “All manufacturing activities of Marion Biotech at Noida unit have been stopped yesterday night, while further investigation is ongoing,” Mandaviya wrote on Twitter on Friday.

Hasan Harris, Marion’s legal head, told Reuters partner ANI that the company had halted production of all medicines as it awaited a government report on the inspection.

Neither Marion nor the health ministry responded to Reuters requests for comment on media reports that inspectors had found some deviation from rules on manufacturing at one of the firm’s production units.

Uzbekistan has taken legal action against a Marion representative there and has ordered all pharmacies to withdraw the Dok-1 Max tablets and syrups.

Uzbek news website uzdaily.uz on Friday re-ported that sales of all Marion medicines had been temporarily suspended.

India is known as the “pharmacy of the world” and has doubled its pharmaceutical exports over the last decade, touching $24.5 billion in the last fiscal year, thanks in large part to the manufacture of vac-cines.

The Uzbekistan case follows deaths of at least 70 children in Gambia that a parliamentary committee had linked to cough and cold syrups manufactured by New Delhi-based Maiden Pharmaceuticals.

The company denied any wrongdoing and Indian government inspectors found no contamination in test samples of cough syrups linked to deaths in Gambia and said they met government standards.

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev said in a statement that he had sacked the head of the country’s Pharmaceutical Industry Development Agency.

“The deaths of children in Samarkand and Qashqadaryo showed the state of affairs in the field, the lack of control,” he said “All the officials who allowed this will answer according to the law.”—AFP