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The production licence of Noida-based drug Biotech was suspended yesterday after the WHO edict that two cough syrups made by the company should not be used for children. This is welcome as the test results of the controversial syrups are awaited. Ambronol and DOK-1 Max were found to contain toxic ethylene glycol and were linked to 19 children deaths in Uzbekistan. This comes after a similar tragedy in the Gambia where the deaths of 70 children were linked to the consumption of four contaminated syrups made by Haryana-based Maiden pharmaceuticals. In both cases the culprit appears to be poor manufacturing of solvents used in the medicines.

Yes, these appear to be extreme cases in the sense that these products were not sold in India. And that medicines manufactured for use in India generally meet adequate standards, although the problem of fake or less-than-ideally-effective pills persists. It is also the case that medicines manufactured for export to rich countries are made according to the specifications of the importing country. But more needs to be done to tackle manufacturing/regulatory infirmity and help India win the perception battle. Let’s remember that in as sensitive a product as medicines, global perception is important for India’s export-attuned pharma industry.

Gol on its own must undertake a thorough and transparent inquiry focussed on the supply chain-from vendors of active pharmaceutical ingredients to the manufacturing process to regulatory processes. It’s not as if there haven’t been controversies about pharma manufacturing standards in India, or that some plants’ processes haven’t been found less-than-ideal, or that questions haven’t been raised about regulation, including by a parliamentary standing committee. India deserves the tag ‘pharmacy of the world’ but with that global recognition comes the responsibility of ensuring the strictest standards for products that can literally make a difference between life and death.

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