Some 200 children have died of acute kidney injury in Indonesia since last year and dozens of cases linked to cough syrup have been reported in The Gambia and Uzbekistan.
Families of Indonesian children who died after consuming a tainted cough syrup have demanded restitution at an Indonesian court, which has started hearing their class-action lawsuit against government agencies and pharmaceutical companies.
Some 200 children have died of acute kidney injury in Indonesia since last year and authorities said two dangerous ingredients – ethylene glycol and diethylene glycol – found in some syrup-based paracetamol medications have been linked to the deaths.
Twenty-five families are now suing Indonesia’s health and finance ministries, the country’s drugs regulator, and at least eight pharma companies for the children’s deaths and injuries.
Lawyer for the families Awan Puryadi told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday that his clients wanted compensation of up to 3.4bn rupiah ($224,570).
Al Jazeera’s Jessica Washington, reporting from Jakarta, said the 25 families are suing 11 parties, including Indonesia’s ministry of health, the country’s food and drug agency, as well as pharmaceutical manufacturing companies and suppliers.
“Today they are calling for accountability for what happened to their children,” Washington said, adding that the families are seeking compensation for the children who died and those left with debilitating injuries.
“A very difficult day for these families as they have to reflect on what happened to their children after they consumed cough syrup that was contaminated with ethylene glycol and diethylene glycol, substances typically found in a manufacturing capacity in paints and dyes that can only be consumed safely in very small doses,” Washington said.
The two ingredients are used in antifreeze, brake fluids and other industrial applications, but also as a cheaper alternative in some pharmaceutical products to glycerine, a solvent or thickening agent in many cough syrups. The substances can also be toxic and can lead to acute kidney injury.
Solihah, 36, who was at the court in the Indonesian capital Jakarta on Tuesday, said her 3-year-old daughter was diagnosed with an acute kidney injury after consuming a syrup medication and died a few days later. She said she wanted the government to be held accountable.
“If my daughter had not consumed the drug, maybe she would still be here,” she said, her voice breaking with emotion.
“I hope all parties involved are held responsible for the conditions of the children who died and are still sick.”
Representatives of the finance ministry and five pharmaceutical companies named in the lawsuit did not respond to requests for comment. Another three companies could not be reached. The country’s drugs regulator said it would respect the ongoing legal process, while the health ministry declined to comment.
Authorities in Indonesia have banned a number of cough syrups and mounted legal action against several pharmaceutical companies whose products allegedly contained the dangerous ingredients.
In October, the World Health Organization said the deaths of dozens of children in The Gambia from kidney injuries may be linked to contaminated cough and cold syrups made by an Indian drug manufacturer.
Indian health authorities said later that they had halted all production of New Delhi-based Maiden Pharmaceuticals after a WHO report that its cough and cold syrups exported to The Gambia may be linked to the deaths of children.
In December, India again launched an investigation into the death of 18 children in Uzbekistan after they consumed an Indian-manufactured cough syrup. India’s health ministry said the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) – the country’s drug regulatory authority – was communicating with its counterpart in Uzbekistan over the incident.