Allegations Of Death By Indian Cough Syrups May Kill Indian Pharma Sector 

As many as 18 children who reportedly had Dok-1 Max, an anti-cold drug manufactured by Noida-based Marion Biotech, have died in Uzbekistan
Pharma sector
Pharma sector

Uzbekistan has raised allegations that children in the country have died after consuming cough syrup manufactured by an Indian pharmaceutical company.  

According to local media reports from the country, as many as 18 children who had Dok-1 Max, an anti-cold drug manufactured by Noida-based Marion Biotech, have succumbed to death. The Ministry of Health in Uzbekistan has stated that collected samples of Dok-1 Max tested positive for the presence of ethylene glycol. 

Ethylene glycol is an industrial chemical that is used in antifreeze formulations and is not fit for medicinal consumption. Notably, ethylene glycol was also found in multiple cough syrups made by another Indian drug firm that reportedly caused the deaths of 70 children in Gambia earlier this year. 

Following the tragic incident in Gambia, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had communicated their scepticism to Indian authorities regarding the cough syrups manufactured by India's Maiden Pharmaceuticals. Subsequently, India's Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) has been looking into the manufacturing practices of the Indian pharma firm. 

However, earlier this month, the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) wrote back to WHO stating that the drug samples they tested at Maiden Pharma's Sonipat plant were not contaminated. 

As it stands, there is a big question mark hanging over several Indian pharma firms' manufacturing practices. This can have big implications if one looks at the state of pharmaceutical sector in India.  

Indian Pharma Sector 

Earlier this year, during an international conference on pharma sector, Indian officials announced that the country is committed to becoming a global leader in pharmaceuticals. The drug sector is a vital cog in the Make-In-India vision. 

The Indian pharmaceutical sector is presently valued at around $50 billion. It is the third largest pharma industry in the world, in terms of production by volume. Importantly, Indian pharma companies export to over 200 countries around the world. 

For FY 2021-22 alone, India's pharma exports are pegged at $24.6 billion. This includes over 50 per cent of Africa's demand for generic drugs and almost 70 per cent of WHO's vaccine requirements.  

As such, scepticism about Indian-made drugs in the international market can jeopardise the position currently enjoyed by the Indian pharma sector. Meanwhile, the question of whether the Indian-made cough syrup did cause the death of children in Gambia and Uzbekistan has taken a political turn.

Jairam Ramesh, opposition member of the parliament belonging to the Indian National Congress, has pointed to the incidents and said that the Modi government should stop boasting of India as 'a pharmacy to the world'. In response, BJP's national spokesperson Sambit Patra has accused the Congress party of conspiring to malign Modi's image.

The truth behind these deaths are yet to be fully revealed. However, India needs to ensure that the country's position at the top of global pharma markets is earned in the right way. To ensure that global markets, including those in Africa, are confident about India's drug manufacturing processes, strict adherence to manufacturing guidelines must be observed. 

Further, in case of suspected tragedies like the ones in Gambia or Uzbekistan, it is important that Indian authorities co-operate with their international counterparts. These steps will make sure that India's stronghold in the global pharma market is sustained as well as well-deserved.

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