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Indonesia bans sale of all cough syrups after death of 99 children

Indonesia has banned the sale of all syrup medicines as it investigates the deaths this year of nearly 100 children, warning that the liquids may contain ingredients linked to fatal kidney injuries.

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Indonesia has halted the sale of all syrup and liquid medicines following the deaths of nearly 100 children and an unexplained spike in cases of acute kidney injuries.

The ban, announced by the country’s Health Ministry on Wednesday, will remain until authorities complete an investigation into unregistered medical syrups suspected of containing toxic ingredients.

Health Ministry spokesperson Mohammad Syahril said 99 deaths and 206 cases of acute kidney injuries in children, mostly under the age of 6, were being investigated.

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“As a precaution, the ministry has asked health workers in health facilities not to prescribe liquid medicine or syrup temporarily,” he said. “We also ask that drug stores temporarily stop all sales of non-prescription liquid medicine or syrup until our investigations are completed.”

The ban comes after the World Health Organization (WHO) linked four Indian-made cough syrups to the deaths of up to 70 children suffering acute kidney failure in The Gambia, West Africa. Earlier this month Indian authorities shut down a factory in New Delhi where the medicines were made.

WHO suspects that four of the syrups made by Maiden Pharmaceuticals Limited – Promethazine oral solution, Kofexmalin baby cough syrup, Makoff baby cough syrup and Magrip N cold syrup – contained “unacceptable amounts” of chemicals that could damage the brains, lungs, livers, and kidneys of those who take them.

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The syrups being used in The Gambia were not available in Indonesia, according to the Southeast Asian country’s food and drugs agency.

However, on Thursday, Indonesian Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said ethylene glycol and diethylene glycol – which are more usually found in products like antifreeze, paints, plastics and cosmetics – had been detected in syrups found in the homes of some child patients.

“(The chemicals) should not have been present,” Budi said.

He added that the number of acute kidney failure cases could be higher than reported and his ministry was taking a conservative approach by banning the sale of all syrups.