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The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged action against contaminated medicines after children’s deaths in The Gambia, Indonesia and Uzbekistan allegedly due to the cough syrups. The WHO has called for an “immediate and concerted action" to protect children from contaminated medicines.

In a statement, the UN agency said that it had reported many incidents of cough syrups for children with suspected contamination. Last year, almost 300 children in Gambia, Indonesia and Uzbekistan died of acute kidney injury. The WHO said the deaths were might have been linked to the contaminated medicines.

The medicines, over-the-counter cough syrups, had high levels of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol. When consumed, diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol can be proved fatal to human beings.

The WHO said, “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 health agency said at least seven countries have in the past four months reported contaminated syrups, calling 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.

Earlier in January, the WHO had issued an alert warning against the use of two Indian cough syrups blamed for the deaths of at least 20 children in Uzbekistan. The agency said the products, which were manufactured by Marion Biotech, were “substandard".

It also said that the firm had failed to provide guarantees about their "safety and quality".

India's health ministry subsequently suspended production at the company and Uzbekistan banned the import and sale of Doc-1 Max.

"Both of these products may have marketing authorisations in other countries in the region. They may also have been distributed, through informal markets, to other countries or regions," WHO said.

(With inputs from agency)

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