Uzbekistan Says 18 Children Died After Taking India-Manufactured Cough Syrup

The cough syrup in question is 'Doc-1 Max', manufactured by the Noida-based company Marion Biotech.

New Delhi: Uzbekistan’s government has said that 18 children in the country have died after allegedly consuming cough syrup manufactured in India.

The cough syrup in question is ‘Doc-1 Max’, manufactured by the company Marion Biotech. The firm’s manufacturing plant is in Noida, according to its website.

Hindustan Times has reported that Uzbekistan’s State Security Service announced it had started a criminal probe against the local importer of the drug. HT quoted the State Security Service’s statement as having said:

“On the fact of death of 18 children, which occurred as a result of taking the drug Doc-1 Max, a criminal case was initiated against officials of Quramax Medical (importer of the drug) and State Center for Expertise and Standardization of Medicines… under Article 186-3 of the Criminal Code (Violation of the order of retail sale of medicines containing potent substances).”

News agency ANI quoted World Health Organisation officials as having said that they were in touch with Uzbekistan officials and are ready to join investigations.

Reports have noted that the cough syrup contained the chemical ethylene glycol.

NDTV has reported that it was found that the children initially this syrup at home for 2-7 days, in doses of 2.5 to 5 ml three to four times a day. The Uzbekistan government has noted that this exceeds the standard dose.

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On Thursday, December 29, India’s health minister Mansukh Mandaviya said that the Indian drug regulator Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) has been in touch with its Uzbek counterpart and that a joint inspection of Marion Biotech’s Noida facility was conducted by a team of UP Durg Control and CDSCO. “Further action as appropriate would be initiated based on the inspection report,” he said.

The health minister added that the samples of the cough syrup have been taken from the manufacturing premises and sent to the Regional Drugs Testing Laboratory in Chandigarh for testing.

This is the second instance in quick succession in which an Indian-made cough syrup has been accused of causing deaths. In October, the WHO issued an alert against four cough syrups manufactured by the Haryana-based Maiden Pharmaceuticals in connection with the death of nearly 70 children in the Gambia. While the CDSCO has given the company a clean chit, a report commission by the WHO found DEG contamination in the range of 1.0%-21.30% weight/volume. A Gambian parliamentary committee probe also held the company liable for the deaths.

Congress spokesperson Jairam Ramesh said the Union government should “stop boasting about India being a pharmacy to the world & take strictest action”.

No formal communication from Uzbekistan: MEA

The Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said that India has sought details from Uzbekistan about the investigation into the deaths, but stated that the Central Asian country has not raised it with New Delhi for now.

“We understand that Uzbek authorities are investigating the case, including whether there is a link to the cough syrup allegedly manufactured in India… Uzbek authorities have not formally taken the matter with us. Nevertheless, our embassy has contacted the Uzbek side and seeking further details of their own investigation,” he told reporters at the weekly briefing.

He added that consular assistance has been extended to local reprsentatives of the Indian company in Uzbekistan. “We understand that legal action has been initiative against some people, including local representative of the company there. In that context, we are extending necessary consular assistance to those individual or individuals.”

Bagchi also referred to the Union health ministry’s statement that the drug regulators of both countries are in touch and that the facilities of the Indian company in Noida were inspected.

On the broader question about the impact of the Uzbek and the Gambian incidents on the Indian pharmaceutical industry’s global presence, he said that both cases should not be assumed to be similar since the investigation was still going on. “Look, the Indian pharmaceutical industry has been a reliable supplier across the world. It continues to be in various forms of medicine and pharmaceutical products and we take it very seriously when such incidents come up,” he added.

Note: This article was updated with additional information at 1:40 pm and 5:10 pm on December 22, 2022.