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WHO urges countries to step up vigilance against contaminated medicines

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has renewed its call urging its member-states to increase country-level vigilance against contaminated medicines by detecting and removing them from circulation in their respective markets of any substandard medical products identified in the WHO medical alerts referred to above as potential causes of deaths and disease.

In a media statement, the United Nations Health Agency said that over the past four months, several countries have reported several incidents of over-the-counter cough syrups for children with confirmed or suspected contamination with high levels of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol.

The global health body stated that contaminated medicines were responsible for more than 300 deaths, most of them young children under the age of five, in three of these countries, citing reports from at least seven countries in recent months.

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The UN Health Agency, stating that these are not isolated incidents, called on various key stakeholders involved in the medical supply chain to take immediate and coordinated action.

Calling upon the countries to ensure that all medical products in their respective markets are approved for sale by competent authorities and obtainable from authorized/licensed suppliers, WHO asked its member-states to assign appropriate resources to improve and increase risk-based inspections of manufacturing sites within their jurisdiction under international norms and standards.

The UN Health Agency asked the countries to increase market surveillance, including risk-based targeted testing for medical products released in their respective markets and enact and enforce, where relevant and as appropriate, laws and other legal measures to help combat the manufacture, distribution and use of substandard and falsified medicines.

Simultaneously, WHO urged drug manufacturers to purchase pharmaceutical-grade excipients from qualified and legitimate suppliers, as well as to conduct extensive testing upon receipt of supplies and before using them for manufacturing finished products.

Additionally, WHO said that it will continue to work with the Member State Mechanism on substandard and falsified medical products in implementing its mandate to promote effective collaboration in the prevention, detection and response to substandard and falsified medical products to save lives.

It may be recalled that WHO had issued an alert after cough syrup allegedly manufactured by an Indian company resulted in the death of 66 children in Gambia, strongly refuted by India.

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