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WHO Urges 'Immediate Action' After Cough Syrup Deaths

FILE - Police is seen at the gate of an office of Marion Biotech, a health care and pharmaceutical company and a part of the Emenox Group, whose cough syrup has been linked to the deaths of children in Uzbekistan, in Noida, India, Dec. 29, 2022.

The World Health Organization has called for "immediate and concerted action" to protect children from contaminated medicines after a spate of child deaths linked to cough syrups last year.

In 2022, more than 300 children — mainly younger than 5 years old — in Gambia, Indonesia and Uzbekistan died of acute kidney injury, deaths that were associated with contaminated medicines, the WHO said in a statement on Monday.

The medicines, over-the-counter cough syrups, had high levels of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol.

"These contaminants are toxic chemicals used as industrial solvents and antifreeze agents that can be fatal even taken in small amounts, and should never be found in medicines," the WHO said.

It said seven countries had reported finding the contaminated syrups in the last four months, and called for action across its 194 member states to prevent more deaths.

"Since these are not isolated incidents, WHO calls on various key stakeholders engaged in the medical supply chain to take immediate and coordinated action," WHO said.