On Jan. 23, the World Health Organization issued “an urgent call to action” regarding “substandard and falsified medical products.” In seven African and Asian countries, parents had purchased over-the-counter cough syrup for their sick children that turned out to be contaminated with diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol. The first is an industrial solvent, the second is antifreeze. Both are poison but have a sweet taste.
The WHO reported that the contaminated cough syrups are “associated with more than 300 fatalities…. Most are young children under the age of five.” Those deaths were from Gambia, Indonesia and Uzbekistan, although the syrups, reportedly manufactured in India and Indonesia, have been found in other countries, too.
The story has the nightmare quality of history repeating itself. As Elsevier’s website ScienceDirect explains: “The first major drug catastrophe in the 20th-century history of the public control of drugs occurred in 1937 in the USA and involved diethylene glycol.”
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