The news of 66 children falling ill and dying in Ghana (West Africa) allegedly after consuming cough syrup preparations manufactured in India was deeply disturbing.
Death of children in large numbers was bad enough. That they died possibly due to a spurious drug was terrible. And that the drug was manufactured in India and exported to that country where this tragedy occurred was deeply disturbing.
The contaminant in the 4 brands of cough syrup marked in Ghana and consumed by the victims is suspected to be diethylene glycol, or DEG. Toxicity was suspected to have caused kidney failure.
The pharmaceutical industry in India has been a success story of sorts, standing shoulder to shoulder with some of the best international medicine manufacturers, supplying affordable therapies to many parts of the world.
As we piece together the bits of news that appeared in the press, the following questions continue to disturb:
Can we claim impunity for allowing an Indian company to export a medicine to another part of the world and then not take responsibility if they were spurious and caused deaths there? Do we then admit that our ability to monitor our products is compromised, and yet we are OK with permitting them to be exported?
The official note being put out that those batches of cough syrup from that company were not allowed to marketing in India but were allowed to be exported to Ghana smacks of double standards and makes one cringe. Are we setting different prices for lives of children in India and those from Ghana?
What about our quality and standards? Some Indian companies maintain high international standards, Could the tarry paint rub onto them? And how does the common man know which ones can he can trust?
Should we be concerned about our claim to be counted as a develop(ed) nation?
I do not recall any medicinal product in recent years being manufactured in a developed part of the world and sold elsewhere that could cause this kind of disaster.
A recent review in Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences estimates that 12 to 25% of Indian medicines for exports failed to meet standards (substandard, contaminated or spurious); the figure could be much higher for medicines manufactured for local sale.
Last but not the least, there is pattern in crime called recidivism, another name for repeat offenders. It appears that the company in question had been hauled up several times for poor manufacturing standards and even deaths in India. And we closed our eyes as it was not for our children!